Source: the Washington Post
ASEM, Egypt — The Christian and Muslim villagers grew up together, played on the same soccer fields as kids, and attended the same schools in this riverside hamlet. But that didn’t matter on a recent day: An argument between boys sparked clashes between neighbors, with Muslims torching shops owned by Christians.
Gamal Sobhy, a Christian farmer, ran into the melee to protect his two sons. Someone in the crowd hit him with a stick. Then others jumped in, striking him repeatedly until he fell to the ground with blood seeping from his head.
“The Muslims were yelling, ‘Kill him, kill him,’ ” Sobhy said a few days after he was released from the hospital.
Five years ago, many among Egypt’s minority Orthodox Coptic Christians thought the discrimination they had long faced from Muslims would begin to disappear when President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in Egypt’s revolution and the military seized control of the country.
But in the years since then, as an Islamist government was elected and overthrown, that sense of hope evaporated.
Attacks against Christians have intensified as mistrust between Christians and Muslims deepens. Today, community leaders and human rights activists say the smallest of matters are setting off violence, often pitting neighbor against neighbor.
At a time when President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi’s government is jailing its opponents and struggling to revive a sinking economy, the violence adds a new layer of populist frustration: Christians strongly supported Sissi’s rise, expecting him to protect them after the former army general led a coup that toppled the Islamists.
“As Egyptian citizens, Christians don’t feel they are equal to their Muslim counterparts,” said Bishop Makarios, the head of the Coptic diocese in Minya province, where Asem is situated. “They feel oppressed, and marginalized by the law.”
Christians across the region have endured horrific assaults in the turbulent aftermath of the Arab Spring uprisings.
In Syria and Iraq, Islamic State militants have destroyed churches, abducted Christians and carried out forced conversions. Thousands of Christians have fled their homes in northern Iraq. In Libya last year, Islamic State militants beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians and an additional 31 Ethiopian and Eritrean Christians in two separate attacks. And earlier this year, the Islamic State’s affiliate in Egypt asserted responsibility for the fatal shooting of a priest.
In Egypt, a “disturbing wave of radicalism” has emerged from the uprising and changes in government and as the economy has worsened, said Bishop Angaelos, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom.