Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi torched three churches in central Egypt on Wednesday as police dispersed protests in Cairo.
According to a report in the Daily Star, the MENA news agency said that attackers threw firebombs at Mar Gergiss church in Sohag, a city with a large Coptic Christian community, causing its demise.
Security officials also told AFP that two additional churches were attacked in the El-Menia province, leaving them partially damaged by fire.
The Maspero Youth Union, a Coptic rights group, reported the burning of the churches as well and accused Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement of “waging a war of retaliation” against the country’s Christians.
The Egyptian government began clearing pro-Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators out of two Cairo squares that they have occupied since the army ousted Morsi six weeks ago.
The Coptic church supported Morsi’s removal, with Patriarch Tawadros II making an appearance with chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as the military coup was announced July 3.
According to the Associated Press, the Muslim Brotherhood defended itself in a press statement:
The world cannot sit back and watch while innocent men, women and children are being indiscriminately slaughtered. The world must stand up to the military junta’s crime before it is too late.
CBS News reported last week that Islamist Morsi supporters “are waging a stepped-up campaign, claiming the country’s Christian minority somehow engineered Morsi’s downfall:”
“Tawadros is a dog,” says a spray-painted insult, referring to Pope Tawadros II, patriarch of the Copts, as Egypt’s Christians are called. Christian homes, stores and places of worship have been marked with large painted crosses.
The hostility led a coalition of 16 Egyptian rights groups to warn on Wednesday of a wave of violence to come, and to demand that the post-coup authorities protect the Christians who are 10 percent of the population, and suffer chronic discrimination.
“They (the Islamists) will not stop as long as they are left to do as they please without fear of accountability,” said Hossam Nabil, a Christian who owns a jewelry store on a street where a demonstration passed last Tuesday night. “They (the marchers) run their index finger across their throats to suggest they will slaughter us, or scream Morsi’s name in our faces.”