Egypt sees spike in attacks on Christians as tensions continue after Arab Spring

This file photo taken on June 22, 2012, shows thousands of supporters of Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi packing Cairo’s landmark Tahrir Square. Nearly half of attacks on Christians occurred in the past three years, after Egypt’s elected Islamist President Mohammed Morsi was ousted in the military coup in 2013.

ASEM, EGYPT—The Christian and Muslim villagers grew up together, played on the same soccer fields as kids, and attended the same schools in this riverside hamlet. But that didn’t matter on a recent day: An argument between boys sparked clashes between neighbours, with Muslims torching shops owned by Christians.

Gamal Sobhy, a Christian farmer, ran into the melee to protect his two sons. Someone in the crowd hit him with a stick. Then others jumped in, striking him repeatedly until he fell to the ground with blood seeping from his head.

“The Muslims were yelling, ‘Kill him, kill him,’ ” Sobhy said a few days after he was released from the hospital.

Five years ago, many among Egypt’s minority Orthodox Coptic Christians thought the discrimination they had long faced from Muslims would begin to disappear when President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in Egypt’s revolution and the military seized control of the country.

But in the years since then, as an Islamist government was elected and overthrown, that sense of hope evaporated.

Attacks against Christians have intensified as mistrust between Christians and Muslims deepens. Today, community leaders and human rights activists say the smallest of matters are setting off violence, often pitting neighbour against neighbour.

At a time when President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi’s government is jailing its opponents and struggling to revive a sinking economy, the violence adds a new layer of populist frustration: Christians strongly supported Sissi’s rise, expecting him to protect them after the former army general led a coup that toppled the Islamists.

“As Egyptian citizens, Christians don’t feel they are equal to their Muslim counterparts,” said Bishop Makarios, the head of the Coptic diocese in Minya province, where Asem is situated. “They feel oppressed, and marginalized by the law.”