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Attacks On Egypt's Christians Increase


The violence that has gripped Egypt since the removal of President Mohammed Morsi has increased tensions between the majority Sunni Muslims and minority Christian communities. Rev. Mikhail is a Christian pastor in Alexandria. For safety concerns, he asked us not to use his first name or the name of his church.

Reverend, first of all, thank you very much for joining us.

THE REV. MIKHAIL: Thank you.

MARTIN: Can you give us a sense of the kind of violence that's been happening - specifically, the attacks against Christian churches around the country?

MIKHAIL: Yes, unfortunately since Aug. 14th, there's been tens of attacks against church properties throughout Egypt, mostly in the southern part of the country, but also in the city of Suez. There have been attacks on church buildings, on Christian schools, Christian bookshops, even Christian orphanages - which is very, very, of course, regrettable.

Some of the attacks are minor; some of them involve burning and stealing everything in the property. In some cases, the buildings have been stormed. In other cases, people were not able to do more than throw some kind of Molotov cocktail, for example, at the church property, and it was put out. So it really varies from place to place. Thankfully, the city of Alexandria has not witnessed attacks against churches. We're very, very thankful for that.

MARTIN: Can you tell us why Christians are being targeted now?

MIKHAIL: Some of the very militant and Islamist forces over the last generation have adopted an anti-Christian rhetoric. So some of what is happening is just a result of that kind of jihadist militant rhetoric. But it was ignited by the perceived notion that Christians had a lot to do with the removal of President Morsi. Christians did play a part, but it was a small part along with many, many millions of moderate Muslims.

MARTIN: You've been in Egypt for more than 20 years. Given that perspective, as a leader in the religious community, do you think this is a momentary crisis that will pass? Or does what's happening portend larger problems, in terms of relations between Christians and Muslims and the political situation, in general?

MIKHAIL: I believe that this is a temporary stage. The country, since 2011, has been heading toward a democratic, free, just country. Relations between us and most Muslim people have been excellent, and they are actually improving over time. What is happening now is happening from a small minority. Unfortunately it's a very vocal minority, it's an angry minority; and it is armed.

But I think that most people are confident that this is a passing stage, and that things both on the political front and the sectarian front are going to improve because we see a trend, a long-term trend in that direction.

MARTIN: Rev. Mikhail is a Christian pastor in Alexandria, Egypt. He joined us on the line from there. Rev. Mikhail, thank you so much.

MIKHAIL: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.