While most headlines from Egypt are focused on Wednesday’s violent dispersal of Muslim Brotherhood supporter sit-ins — latest death toll placed at 149, per the Associated Press — Christians in the embattled country are facing what’s being described as “a black day” as their churches are being attacked and torched by angry Islamists.
Supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi set fire to churches around Egypt in apparent retaliation for the police dispersing the pro-Morsi demonstrations in Cairo. According to AFP, three churches were attacked, but other outlets place the number higher.
Egypt-watchers and reporters are using terms such as “unprecedented,” a sectarian “catastrophe” and “a literal pogrom” to describe the unfolding of events Wednesday.
One Twitter user called it “a black day in the Coptic modern history.”
The Egyptian blogger The Big Pharaoh reported that the St. Theresa Church in Assiut in Upper Egypt was set ablaze and that both the St. James monastery and a Jesuit nuns’ school in Meniah “a very old building” were burned down. Churches in Arish and Ezbet el-Nakhl in Greater Cairo were also “torched,” The Big Pharaoh blogger reported.
“I think the magnitude and geographical spread of the attacks on Christians didn’t happen before since the mid ages,” the blogger tweeted.
It’s unclear if the attacks were orchestrated in advance, but Eric Trager, an Egypt expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy tweeted, “Hideous & typical. MT @basildabh: FJP accuses ‘Christian thugs under police’ of dispersing Sohag pro-Morsi dem” referring to the Muslim Brotherhood linked Freedom and Justice Party.
— Eric Trager (@EricTrager18) August 14, 2013
AFP reports that attackers threw Molotov cocktails at the Coptic Christian Mar Gergiss Church in Sohag, a city with a large Christian population. Egypt’s MENA news agency reported that the church burned down. This is the same church where Islamists raised an Al Qaeda flag last week, as TheBlaze reported.
Security officials speaking to AFP confirmed the bloggers’ reports that another two churches were attacked in the Meniah province, but that partial damage resulted.
According to International Business Times, the churches attacked were the Church of Abraham and the Church of the Virgin Mary in Meniah. The outlet reported that Morsi supporters set fire to the buildings’ exteriors then smashed through doors.
The Bon Pasteur Catholic Church and Monastery in Suez was also reportedly attacked with Molotov cocktails and the smashing of windows.
The Maspero Youth Union which represents Coptic Christians is accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of “waging a war of retaliation” against Christians.
Israel National News conveyed these reports of the attacks on Christians:
In Fayoum, in Upper Egypt, pro-Morsi supporters set fire to a Christian youth center located next to the Muslim youth center where they had been protesting, according to a report on Ahram Arabic cited by the BBC.
Ahram Arabic also reported that pro-Morsi supporters threw fire bombs at the Al-Raey Al-Saleh Church and set three military vehicles on fire. Clashes are ongoing between protesters and military forces.
The Gamaa Islamiya – Islamic Group – urged loyalists “enraged by police attacks on the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins,” not to assault “Christians or their religious buildings,” Israel National News reported.
According to the Associated Press, Egypt’s official news agency reported that 149 people were killed in Wednesday’s clashes across the country between Morsi’s supporters and security forces. A Health Ministry spokesman said 1,403 people were wounded.