– International Christian Concern (ICC) and Egypt’s Christian community are commemorating today as the seventh anniversary of the Maspero Massacre. On October 9, 2011, the Egyptian army killed dozens and injured hundreds who were protesting the government’s closure of an Aswan church. Seven years later, churches are regularly closed and security forces remain complicit in a number of attacks against Christians.
On the day of the incident, Egyptians peacefully gathered in Cairo to demand equality after an extremist mob burned and looted a church in Aswan. Security forces responded by closing the church. Protesters gathered and the military responded with violence in what was regarded as an attempt to sever Christians from the rest of Egyptian society.
One witness told ICC at the time, “The army and police were waiting for us about 200 meters away from the Maspero TV building. They started firing at us before two army armored vehicles came at great speed and drove into the crowds, going backwards and forwards, mowing people under their wheels.”
Those responsible for attacking the protesters have never been held accountable. Today, the situation for Egypt’s Christians has worsened and church legalization remains a contentious issue. Security forces continue to actively encourage the marginalization of Christians from Egyptian society.
“In Egypt’s constitution, it is said that Egypt is a Muslim country and the country’s religion is Islam,” explained Karim, a Bible student, to ICC. “With this item in the constitution, it gives the idea to radical Muslims that having a church is not part of the Islamic country and that Christians are not a part of the Islamic community. Therefore, they condone having night clubs, but not having a church.”
Churches seeking official recognition are at an increased risk of mob violence. While the government has passed legislation purported to make it easier for churches to acquire legalization, the process is slow and security forces maintain the ability to indefinitely close any church for vague reasons.
Sami, a Christian factory owner, stated, “You can’t ignore the inheritance which is the mind of a Muslim person who has been raised on the idea that approving the building of a church is against Islamic teaching. And now you are coming to a committee which is responsible to study the cases and asking them to study [thousands of] cases of church legalization, what do you expect?”
There are multiple examples of the security forces either delaying their response to attacks or idly standing by. The village of Sultan has experienced five attacks since July because of this. A statement issued last month by the diocese warned, “The extremism in the neighboring village of Sultan has been experienced for weeks because of the lack of deterrence. The infection has spread.”
Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager, said, “The Maspero Massacre was a brutal crackdown against Egypt’s Christians, who continue to suffer endless violence and hardship. It is their basic human right to worship and pray inside a church. But through slow bureaucracy, a neglect of justice, and a misapplication of security, Christians are denied religious freedom. The government must take concrete steps toward rectifying these wrongs and ensuring the protection of Christians’ civil rights.”