Christians in the Egyptian village of Al Our are looking to build a new church in honor of the Coptic Christians beheaded by ISIS in Libya, a mass-murder outrage captured in a viral video circulated by the Islamic State. Thirteen of the 21 Christians slaughtered in the video hailed from Al Our; they had gone to Libya in search of employment. A church in their hometown would seem like a fine way to remember them.
Building churches is rarely a simple proposition in the Muslim world, even in the Copt’s ancient home of Egypt, where the current president is an outspoken opponent of Islamist extremism. As Fox News reports, church construction is possible in Egypt, but it requires special permission from the government, a permit not necessary for the construction of mosques. The Copts of Al Our dutifully secured the necessary permission from President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
This prompted an angry Muslim mob to materialize at the current church of Al Our and stage a violent riot, vowing to prevent the construction of a new church by any means necessary. After the sun went down, the mob was no longer content with chanting slogans. “Things turned far uglier after nightfall, the witnesses said, as a smaller number of individuals threw Molotov cocktails and stones at the church, injuring several people, and setting cars ablaze, including one that belonged to a relative of one of the victims of the Libyan massacre,” Fox News writes.
Word reached the Egyptian Christian community in America, which has pointed to Internet posts showing damage and injuries from the riot, and relayed complaints that the local police did nothing to halt the attack, and the few people they arrested afterward were swiftly released. On the contrary, the Copts are fearful that permission to build their new church will be withdrawn, because it has provoked such a violent reaction. It looks as if they might be “asked” (in an offer-you-can’t-refuse way) to relocate the church to land outside the village.
There was also a bit of hope to be found, as there has been in other stories of anti-Christian persecution from Egypt. Some Muslim residents of Al Our rallied to drive stone-throwing protesters away from the house where one of the ISIS massacre victims lived. Nevertheless, relations between the Christian and Muslim communities of Al Our are said to remain tense.
Egyptian President al-Sisi could put some real muscle behind his declared commitment to combat extremism–and prove it’s more than just an excuse for clobbering his domestic political adversaries–by making sure churches get built on Christian property, and remain intact. Religious tolerance blossoming across the Middle East would be an “Arab Spring” everyone could celebrate.