A Coptic Christian church in the outskirts of Alexandria, Egypt, was attacked by a mob of Muslims on Dec. 24, 2022, an action apparently condoned by Egypt's Islamic sharia law, reported the organization Coptic Solidarity (CS).
The Church of the Virgin and Anba Samuel is located in Abis al-Thawra, which is a village in the rural outskirts of Alexandria on Egypt's north coast.
The church, whose roof had been damaged by time and weather, was being repaired and this construction apparently triggered the riotous attack.
As Coptic Solidarity reported, about two years ago the roof collapsed after heavy rains and fell on and "injured several congregants. After two years’ worth of appealing to the authorities for a permit to 'fix the roof and save the lives of worshippers,' the church finally received approval."
"This is the only church in an area covering several villages and hamlets to serve some 600 Christian families. Built in 1979, it is already severely overcrowded (and, therefore, a 'safety hazard,' like many churches that recently 'caught fire' in Egypt)," said CS. "Hence, during the application process, the Copts had also requested approval to enlarge the church."
"The authorities refused, granting only approval to fix the roof—and yet even this was too much for the local Muslim populace, which rioted and hurled stones at the church, individual Copts, and the roof workers," reported CS. "They also set fire to a Christian farmhouse adjacent to the church."
Under sharia law in Egypt new churches cannot be built and existing ones cannot be repaired. As CS and the BBC reported, under Islamic rules for managing non-Muslims, Christians are "Not to build a church in our city—nor a monastery, convent, or monk’s cell in the surrounding areas—and not to repair those that fall in ruins or are in Muslim quarters.... Not to display a cross on them [churches], nor raise our voices during prayer or readings in our churches anywhere near Muslims; Not to produce a cross or [Christian] book in the markets of the Muslims...."
The police did go to the Coptic church to stop the violence. However, CS reported, "As usual, none of the [Muslim] assailants or instigators was arrested. Instead, all roof construction work was halted under the pretext of 'calming the situation.' Based on precedent, however, Copts fear that this 'temporary' halt will become permanent."
CS concluded that this action by the state frequently occurs throughout Egypt. "[W]henever a church is legalized or repaired—or is merely rumored to be legalized or repaired—local Muslim mobs riot and attack Christians. Authorities frequently respond by appeasing the rioters and permanently sealing up the 'offending' churches on the charge that they are 'security risks' to the region.
Coptic Christians make up the largest Christian denomination in Egypt and the Middle East, about 4 million in Egypt alone (approximately 12 million worldwide). Their origin goes back to the earliest days of Christianity.
Coptic Solidarity is a watchdog organization that tracks events and policies in Egypt. The group is "dedicated to advocating equal citizenship for the Coptic Christians of Egypt and minorities in the Middle East," reads the CS website.