Source: Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney
As the death toll from recent violent clashes in Egypt continues to climb with 556 now reported dead and thousands more injured Australia’s Egyptian community remains in shock.
“We who stand for 80,000 Christian Egyptians in Australia are deeply saddened by events and the tragic loss of life in Egypt on Wednesday. No matter the difference in our political or religious stance, it is unacceptable to see such bloodshed and the destruction of public buildings and churches throughout Egypt,” the leaders of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Australia, Bishop Anba Suriel and Bishop Daniel said in a joint statement this morning.
Egypt is under a state of emergency and facing a humanitarian disaster with security forces firing on protesters supporting deposed president Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Heavily armed police have opened fire on men, women and children in Cairo and regional centres.
Morsi’s short time in power was marred by continuing unrest and deadly street clashes as well as economic turmoil.
Millions took to the streets at the end of June calling for his removal. This was accomplished with a military coup in early July.
The interim military government then ordered a crackdown on demonstrators which has seen tear gas bombings and widespread sniper fire. The Muslim Brotherhood retaliated by urging Egyptians to take to the streets to denounce “the massacre”. As a result nearly 50 Christian churches were destroyed along with monasteries, schools and hospitals.
Australian Foreign Affairs has said all Australians should leave Egypt as soon as possible and have also declared the trouble-torn country a no-go zone for visitors.
Meanwhile Australian Egyptians, many of whom have relatives in Cairo and surrounding areas are mourning what appears to be the collapse of the government and the violence. Some fear relatives may be among those killed in the street battles.
Tomorrow, Saturday 17 August an ecumenical service will be held at the St Mary & St Mina Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, Bexley at 1.30 pm to enable the Australian public, Christians of all denominations and Sydney’s Coptic Christian community to pray as one for peace in Egypt.
In Melbourne a similar service to pray for peace, mourn the dead, reflect on the current atrocities in Egypt has also been organised, Bishop Suriel says. Tomorrow’s prayers for Egypt and for Egypt’s persecuted Coptic minority will be held at 9.00 am at Melbourne’s St Paul’s Cathedral. As with the Sydney liturgy, the public, those of all Christian denominations as well as Victoria’s Coptic community are invited.
While the Bishop Suriel and Bishop Daniel are in deep mourning for the dead and thousands injured by the army and security forces, they have also condemned the barbarity and ferocity of attacks by the Muslim Brotherhood on Coptic Christians.
As the world focussed its attention on the atrocities and bloody events unfolding in Cairo on Wednesday, Islamic extremists went on a 12 hour rampage in cities and towns across the country, simultaneously destroying Christian churches and setting fire to monasteries, schools, hospitals, Coptic homes, businesses, hotels and bookshops in cities.
Coptic Christians were also killed with many others assaulted and injured.
Nuns and priests were also attacked and a Christian pastor and his wife kidnapped.
“This was clearly a planned and systematic attack by Islamic terrorists against the Copts and their churches in Egypt, and is unprecedented in modern times,” Bishop Suriel says.
Egypt’s Copts have suffered increasing persecution from Islamic extremists over the past few years. Almost all of these have unchecked and been perpetrated openly in front of law offices in the knowledge there would be little danger of arrest or of being made accountable for these crimes include rape and murder.
But this week’s 12 hour rampage against the Copts by Muslim Brotherhood supporters of outsted President Mohammed Morsi in towns and cities across Egypt is unparalleled in recent times both in the range and extent of the attacks as well as the ferocity of the destruction.
The unchecked violence against Egypt’s Copts was further fuelled last week when al-Qaeda’s Egyptian leader, Ayman Zawahiri accused Coptic Pope Tawadros II of conducting a “Crusade” to overthrow Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, claiming spiritual leader of world’s Copts intended to create a Coptic state in Egypt.
As the oldest ethnic group in Egypt, the Copts trace their history back to the days of the Pharaohs and in 50 AD became some of the world’s first Christians. However making up just 10 percent of Egypt’s 85 million predominantly Muslim population, and under their teaching as Christians dedicated to peace, the idea of Coptic overthrow should be greeted with incredulity. Instead it is being used to further inflame Islamic extremism and incite further attacks.
Portrayed by the Muslim Brotherhood as the instigator in Morsi’s overthrow, Pope Tawadros has received numerous death threats and is at increasing risk of assassination.
“The Brotherhood has made serious threats against his life. Since 28 June, His Holiness has been forced to live in seclusion at his Papal residence in Cairo and unable to leave. Filthy language and graffiti has also been scrawled across the outside walls of the residence and he is unable to preside over Mass at the Cathedral for fears he will put the lives of his congregation in danger,” Bishop Suriel says.
According to Bishop Suriel and Bishop Daniel, it is important the West understand that whatever the Muslim Brotherhood may claim, democracy is not a priority and what is seldom reported in the media in Australia is the fact that when in power Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-backed Government not only began to create what they hoped would eventually be an Islamic state, but appointed known terrorists to high-ranking positions in the Government.
Adel El Khayat, a member of the Islamic terrorist organization, Jamaar Islamiah and one of those who was involved in the massacre of 67 tourists at Luxor in 1997 was appointed by Morsi to become governor of Luxor.
“There was outrage as well as alarm throughout Egypt when the appointment was announced and made Morsi and the Brotherhood’s intentions clear,” Bishop Suriel says
However Morsi’s removal from office was sealed when 33 million signed a petition. This was many times the number of those who had voted for the Muslim Brotherhood-backed president a year before, and included the vast majority of Egypt’s moderate Muslims and the millions who had fought for democracy and freedom during the so-called Arab spring.
The millions of Egyptians who called for Morsi to stand down followed news last November that Morsi wrote Sharia law into Egypt’s constitution. There was further alarm earlier this year when it became obvious he intended to impose Sunni ideology on the entire population, and to eventually create an Islamic state under strict Sharia law.
Founded 85 years ago in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was banned as a terrorist organisation in Egypt throughout deposed President Hosni Mubarak’s long rule. Today the Muslim Brotherhood not only continues its strong links with terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah but has also forged strong ties with al-Qaeda.
This week al-Qaeda’s distinctive black flag was hoisted above several of the destroyed churches including the ruins of the Coptic Church of St George in Sohag.
There are not only groups of Muslim Brotherhood fanatics in Australia but there are now fears of retaliation by these extremists against Australia’s Coptic Christian community.
Egyptian-born Father Shenouda Mansour from the St Antonius & St Paul Coptic Orthodox Church, Guilford recalls the terror threats against four of Sydney’s Coptic churches in January 2011. The four Sydney churches were among 60 Coptic churches targeted worldwide by an unnamed Islamic extremist group. While the group was unnamed the threats were serious with the churches needing special protection, bomb squads being employed, police protection stepped up and celebrations for the Orthodox Christmas on 2011 cut short.
“Jihadist persecution of Christians is intensifying worldwide. Australia and Sydney are not immune,” Fr Shenouda warns and says with Egypt’s extremists claiming His Holiness Tawadros II is responsible for Morsi’s overthrow Copts in Australia may be in danger.
“During this Holy Fast of St Mary we ask our Coptic communities across both dioceses to lift up their hearts in prayer and fasting and that the Lord Jesus Christ may bestow His peace upon Egypt and all who dwell therein,” Bishop Suriel and Bishop Daniel said in their joint statement this morning and asked Christians everywhere to pray for peace and to pray for his homeland.
The death toll is climbing every hour in Egypt and although the official toll is said to be just over 500 the unofficial toll is claimed to be around 2000 with up to 10,000 injured.