Even if the army is sympathetic, it can’t do very much for the Christians: Islamic law forbids Christians to build new churches or repair old ones, so if the army helps the Christians very much, it will be faced with the return of the Muslim mobs who destroyed the churches in the first place.
“The churches burned after Egypt’s coup last year are still in ruins (PHOTOS),” by Laura Dean, GlobalPost, December 22, 2014:
MINYA, Egypt — It’s early, just before 7 a.m. Elderly ladies with elegantly coiffed hair shuffle toward the Amir Tadros church. The towers are ringed with scaffolding, and a makeshift fence of wooden boards seals off the church entrance except when it’s prayer time. On one side there’s a yawning hole in the ground where the foundation is being rebuilt.
Exactly 16 months ago here, as news flowed in of the bloody dispersal of sit-ins in Cairo that left more than 800 supporters of ousted Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi dead, angry mobs in this Upper Egyptian city took to the street and attacked churches, shops and other Christian-run establishments.
The same thing happened around the country. Dozens of Christian institutions were looted and burned, with residents blaming Islamists from nearby villages for most of the attacks. Christians, who make up roughly 10 percent of the Egyptian population, were seen as supporting the military coup that ousted Islamist President Morsi a month earlier and targeted many of his supporters. Sectarian rhetoric at pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo had for weeks accused Coptic Christians of supporting Morsi’s July 3 overthrow.
The government used the August church burnings, particularly in Minya — which has a large Coptic population and saw some of the worst attacks — to justify the heavy security crackdown that followed.
But that iron fist did little to help Christians who’d been targeted. Their churches, which the army promised to fix more than a year ago, still stand half-built as Minya’s Copts prepare for another drafty Christmas.
A Bad Year
Carpets cover the bare cement on the partially rebuilt ground floor of the Amir Tadros Church. Parishioners shiver in their seats and leave their coats on during the services. A mother wraps her young son inside the sweater she’s wearing to keep him warm.
Despite the chill, the church is packed, men on one side, women on the other. It is the first Sunday of Advent, the season leading up to Christmas, which for Egypt’s Coptic Christians falls on Jan. 7. Some have been here all night.
For this congregation, it’s been a tough year and a half. On the night of Aug. 14, 2013, the night her church was attacked, parishioner Nora Girgis says she came down from her house to try to stop the arsonists. One of the attackers drew his finger across his throat in an ugly threat, she says.
“The wood was like cigarette paper,” says Father Sidarous Macca, describing the carvings in the main hall of the church that were set alight.
“We prayed in the church garden for about three months, then in a nearby school for six. Then when the school needed the space we prayed in a house,” he says.
The main floor of the church is still in ruins, but worshippers can now use the partially finished ground floor. There are still gaping holes where the windows should be.
The army’s work to rebuild the churches has been slow. Even the help they do provide is partial. (Military representatives didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.)
“The armed forces provide only the steel and the cement,” Father Sidarous says. Everything else — the workers’ salaries, the red bricks piled on the street outside — is paid for by the church. He hopes the repairs will be finished by Easter.
Still, the Amir Tadros congregation is luckier than some.
Across town stands the charred shell of the Anba Moussa church. Nothing has been moved since the day a mob burned and looted the church and the priest’s apartment. They took everything, down to the doorframes and the toilet seats, after driving a car through the front doors. Only an ever-thickening layer of dust attests to the passage of time.
“They say the army will come, but up to now we haven’t seen anything,” says Atteya Farag, the church’s caretaker….