Are three suspicious church fires the beginning of something more in Egypt?

By November 20, 2019

Egypt (MNN) – It’s no secret that Christians in Egypt feel pressure to conform.

The predominant Islamic culture fuels religious discrimination and creates a hostile environment that allows the trampling of Christians’ fundamental rights. Justice is slow in coming in criminal situations.

Greg Musselman is a spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs Canada. He says a recent spate of Upper Egypt church fires on October 13, 16, and November 1 seems suspect. “Some of the official reporting coming out of there, at least from the government, is saying, well, it was an electrical short, that kind of thing. Okay, maybe in one case, but three cases?”

Investigations are ongoing, but fire officials’ suggestions about the fire’s causes have Christians crying foul. Musselman explains that in one case, “One of the priests in the Orthodox Church that was destroyed by fire was an electrician. He said, ‘we actually went through all the safety measures to make sure that the electrical was done properly and that it was safe, and then the fire breaks out,’ and that could happen. But there was also some security video that showed a person throwing something onto the roof of the church.”

Is there justice for Christians in Egypt?

(Map courtesy of Wikimedia Creative Commons)

A closer examination of the video failed to reveal answers. “They were not able to make out the person because of the angle of the camera, but something was thrown on the roof of one of the churches, and it started a fire. So they believe that was arson.”

However, because church authorities had a warning, it’s another reason these fires are suspicious.”Security in Egypt was telling the churches to make sure that their security cameras were working. They understood that something was going to happen. There had also been some other information coming out, as well, that some Islamists had been warned to stay clear of the churches. So there was something that was going on.”

Aside from the obvious, why would Islamists want to burn down the churches? It’s part of an ongoing intimidation campaign. The Islamic State publicly vowed to wage war on Christians.

Musselman also says the Muslim Brotherhood still blames Christians for their humiliating fall from grace. “El Sisi, the current president, has a relatively decent relationship with the Orthodox Church, and that, of course, upsets the Muslim Brotherhood, who were pushed out of power. So the Orthodox Church is seen as somewhat in cahoots with the current administration.”

Christians treated as second-class citizens

The bullying is relentless. Some give up and leave the country. For those who remain, VOMC works with international partners to provide a safe place of refuge, counsel, and discipleship for Christians from Muslim backgrounds. Due to religious pressure from their families, some leave home, while others face ostracization in their communities because of their identity with Christ.

(Screen grab courtesy of Copts United live)

“That’s intimidation that’s been going on for years and years in Egypt. Any time that a church, Orthodox or other, tries to do renovations, they are stopped– there’s just all these situations happening, (like) attacks, during the Christian holidays.” Even as Christmas approaches, church officials now have an eye on beefing up security in Egypt.

What can we do?

When considering what we can do on their behalf, Musselman urges us to pray that followers of Christ won’t give in to terrorism. “These attacks have taken place. And then, folks start asking questions, ‘why am I being attacked?’ and ‘is it worth it?’ and ‘do I believe this?’ It often causes people to kind of look at ‘what do I believe in?’ and pushes them towards the Bible.”

The good news: some are already standing up for their faith. “One of the churches that was burned down and suffered severe damage, the believers were there the following Sunday. They were meeting for worship, and I think that’s a wonderful thing. They’re saying, ‘this is important, and we’re going to come together and we’re not going to be intimidated.’” Ask God to provide for their spiritual and practical needs; pray that He will strengthen and encourage them so they can effectively share the message of the Gospel with others in their communities.



Header photo still of Mar Girgis Church in Helwan, Cairo taken from video/YouTube/CoptsUnitedlive.

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