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Egypt's Copts warn of surging violence as houses torched

Egypt’s Coptic Christian community has long faced sectarian violence and attacks by ISIS and other groups.
Christian worshippers are sprinkled with holy water during the Palm Sunday service, marking the start of Holy Week for Orthodox Christians, at the Coptic Orthodox Monastery of Simon the Tanner, also known as the Cave Church, in the eastern hillside Mokkatam district of Cairo on April 28, 2024. (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP) (Photo by KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Coptic Christians in Egypt have faced attacks in the past week, raising concerns about the minority group’s safety in the country.

What happened: Several Coptic homes were burned in the village of Fawakher in Egypt’s northern Minya governorate Tuesday night while residents were still inside. Al-Arabiya and The New Arab reported that the attack came in response to purported plans to build a new church in the area.

Bishop Anba Macarius, who leads the Minya diocese, blamed the attack on “extremists” in a post on X after midnight, adding that the Coptic community had informed authorities of expected trouble before the incident. Early Wednesday morning, he posted again to say that Egyptian security forces had deployed to Fawakher, arrested the alleged perpetrators and established control over the situation.

“May God protect our beloved Egypt from all misfortune,” he said.

Neither Macarius nor the news reports mentioned any casualties.

On Friday, the website Copts United reported another attack against the community in the al-Kom al-Ahmar village in Minya after a church obtained building permits.

Videos purportedly showing the incident were shared on social media.

Egypt's Copts form one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. Copts trace their origins to the arrival of Saint Mark in Egypt during the first century. The Coptic language is still used by the church for liturgical purposes, though Arabic became the lingua franca following the Arab conquest of Egypt in the seventh century. Many Copts converted to Islam following the conquest. Estimates of the current population vary. According to the London-based Minority Rights Group International, the Coptic population ranges from 4.7 to 7.1 million out of Egypt's more than 100 million inhabitants. 

The attacks occurred ahead of the Coptic Orthodox Church’s Holy Week, which began on Sunday.

Why it matters: There is a long history of persecution and violence against Copts in Egypt, especially in Minya governorate. In 2018, a police officer was charged with murder over the shooting of two Copts in Minya. The following year, Al-Monitor reported from Minya that some Coptic places of worship were forced to close due to violence and intimidation.

Copts have faced violence in the Sinai Peninsula as well. In 2021, an Islamic State affiliate executed a Coptic man there. Egypt claimed victory last year over a recent insurgency by ISIS, al-Qaeda and other groups in Sinai.

The US State Department’s 2022 human rights report for Egypt noted sectarian violence against Coptic Christians, including the killing of two men by ISIS in Sinai that August.