Fear Rising for Coptic Christians in Egypt

One of the worst assaults on Coptic Christians since the fall of Egypt's strongman Hosni Mubarak left several people dead on Friday, most of them Copts. Assyrian International News Agency reported, "Officials said... that the violence erupted late April 5 after Muslims objected to Coptic Christian children painting on the wall of an Islamic institution in the neighborhood of Al-Khosous..."

The attacks flared up again on Sunday, during a funeral for the Coptic victims.

There is a pattern of attacks on Coptic Christians -- who make up at least 10 percent of Egypt's population -- at the hand of radical Islamists. These assaults have increased exponentially since the Muslim Brotherhood rose to power following the overthrow of Mubarak's government. Incidents of violence against Copts are usually under-reported in the western media, and my friend and Hudson Institute colleague Samuel Tadros, who is in close touch with the Coptic community in Egypt, provides some perspective.

"In the past two years from April 2011 until today," Tadros told me on Saturday night, "59 Copts have been murdered: 28 in Maspero, four in Abu Qurqas, six in Imbaba, 12 in Mansheyet Nasser, one in Libya, one in Dahshour, and at least eight in Khosous."

"Besides the fatalities, 714 Copts have been wounded and not one assailant has been tried for those attacks."

"114 Coptic families have had their property looted; 112 have been forced to leave their homes."

"24 Churches have been attacked, 4 of which have been completely destroyed."

"Eight Copts, including three children have been imprisoned for insulting Islam."

As for the attack on Khosous, Tadros explained, "I don't know the exact number of dead Copts," he said. "I have seen claims from four to 10. The real number will probably be at the high end of that range. The attacks have become so common that it is now useless to ask about the details. The initial cause might have been a rumor, it might have been a church being built, it might have been anything. It doesn't matter anymore. These people were killed because they were Copts. That is enough of a crime."

That was before the Sunday funeral for four of the Copts who were killed in Khosous. The memorial service, at St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church in Abbasseya, Cairo, was attacked by radical Muslims. One Copt was killed and 29 were injured.

Al-Masry Al-Youm (Egypt Independent News) said that after the funeral:

"a group of about 30 people sang religious songs while at the [cathedral's] main entrance, while youths on rooftops threw objects at assailants outside and burned objects to create smoke ... A cathedral hall was turned into a field hospital, and an injured man told Egypt Independent he wanted to send a message to President Mohamed Morsi: 'Why are you doing this to the Egyptian people? We want you to leave. Muslim, Christian, we want you to leave.'"

"...Some mourners had refused to leave the cathedral despite the heavy tear gas, which was fired from the cathedral's main gate... Copts who were in the cathedral mourning the deaths of the Khosous clash's victims say they were afraid the cathedral would be attacked if they left."

Two Coptic bishops performed the funeral mass in the absence of Pope Tawadros II, who failed to attend. In his sermon, Bishop Raphael said, "Not by bloodshed will the country prosper, and not by the lack of security. A message to Copts: Stick to our faith, our ethics and our love, and we will not compromise on the ethics of the Gospel."