In a chronically familiar scene, angry, rioting Muslims in Egypt burned down around 80 Christian homes on June 17. In the words of one of the victims, Moses Zarif,
"On Friday afternoon, after noon prayers, a large number of Muslims gathered in the front of the new house of my cousin because a rumor had spread in the village that it would be turned into a church. They were chanting slogans against us: 'By no means will there be a church here' and 'Egypt will remain Islamic!'"
According to the report, rioting Muslims beat the two cousins, attacked the building, destroyed all construction materials, and threw rocks at any Christian trying to intervene. Then they "turned their wrath on the Christian homes adjacent to the building, hurled rocks, looted houses and set fire to any Christian property in their wake."
When the local priest heard what was happening, he rushed to the scene -- only to be attacked while in his car; the Muslims climbed on it, stomped on it, and damaged it.
Currently the Christians of al-Bayda village, where the incident took place, have no church. They have to walk four miles in Egypt's sweltering heat to attend another church.
The Arabic-language news show, "Behind the Scenes," played short video clips of the incident as it transpired, made by phone cameras.
On June 17, 2016, rioting Muslims in Egypt attacked Christians and their property, and burned down Christian homes. (Image source: "Behind the Scenes" video screenshot)
The Muslim mob, which appears to have consisted of hundreds of people surrounding the building, included veiled women and children. There were shouts of "Allahu Akbar!" ["Allah is Greater!"]; women in hijabs clapped and whistled and ululated. At one point, almost in unison, the mob can clearly be heard chanting, "We'll burn the church, we'll burn the church."
Egyptian TV reported the one-sided attacks from the Muslim majority on the Christian minority as "clashes." After arriving, the police stood back and allowed the mob to continue destroying the house and setting more Christian homes and vehicles on fire. The Muslims then performed their afternoon prayers outside those Christians' homes they had not destroyed -- with loudspeakers pointed at their doors.
"No one did anything and the police took no pre-emptive or security measures in anticipation of the attacks," said Anba Makarios, a representative of the normally diplomatic Coptic Christian church of the incident. Instead, a report notes that,
"In the end, police arrested six Muslim men, all of whom were released that evening, and six Christian men, who were released on the following day. The police station in Amirya charged the six men with erecting a building without permit and holding prayers without permission."
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this latest attack on Egypt's Christian minority is that every aspect of it has been repeated over and over in countless other incidents.
Violent riots and attacks on Christian homes and property, at the mere mention that a Christian church might be built or just renovated, are commonplace in Egypt (see here for several recent examples).
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi, Egypt's president, agreed to build a memorial church in the village of Al-Our, which was home to 13 of the 21 Christians beheaded in February 2015 by the Islamic State in Libya. The families of the victims still live there. Muslim mobs from the village rose in violence in response, on April 3, 2015. There they also shouted that they would never allow a church to be built, and that "Egypt is Islamic!" Molotov cocktails and stones were thrown at another Coptic church, cars were set ablaze -- including one belonging to a relative of one of the those Christians decapitated by the Islamic State -- and several people were injured.
Even tents used by churchless Christians for worship are not spared.
Collective punishment -- punishing all Christians for the real or perceived offense of one Christian -- is common (as documented here). It is the reason that 80 Christian homes are torched on the rumor that one Christian might be turning his home into a church. Last month in Egypt, a 70-year-old Christian woman was stripped naked, beaten, and paraded in the streets of her village by a mob of 300 Muslim men.
The woman's son was rumored to be romantically involved with a Muslim woman -- a relationship strictly banned by Islam.
All these attacks take place on took place on a Friday: the one day of the week when Muslims meet in mosques to pray and hear sermons -- possibly whipping them up against all things "infidel," Christians chief among them.
The attack on the church had the bonus of occurring during Ramadan as well, when pious Muslims possibly become even more radical and intolerant of uppity Christians who dare to build churches.
During the coverage of this attack, Dr. Mona Roman, the host of "Behind the Scenes," said:
"Throughout Egypt, we are accustomed to seeing Muslims laying out their carpets and praying wherever they want, and no one bothers them. Why must Christians be so hounded for trying to worship, prevented from building churches or even meeting in homes? Where is this equality we often hear about?"
She concluded by asking what must be on the mind of every Christian in Egypt: "We all know the authority of Egypt's government, that whenever it intends on doing something, it does it. How long will these acts continue with impunity -- will they never stop?"
Raymond Ibrahim is the author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam's New War on Christians (published by Regnery with Gatestone Institute, April 2013).