(Photo: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)
Islamists burned down a Christian school, paraded three nuns on the streets like "prisoners of war," and sexually abused two other female staff even as at least 58 attacks on Christians and their property were reported across Egypt over the last four days. At least two Christians have died in the attacks.
Islamist supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi have attacked at least 58 churches, Christian institutions, homes and shops since Wednesday, when Egyptian security forces cleared two of their sit-in camps in Cairo, according to a list Asia News received from the Catholic Church in Egypt.
The Islamists are calling for reinstatement of Morsi, who is from the Muslim Brotherhood and was ousted by the military on July 3. Hundreds of Morsi's supporters were killed as police cleared the sit-in camps, and the others went on a rampage.
In one of the attacks, reported by The Associated Press, the Islamists torched a Franciscan school in Bani Suef.
The attack, supposedly to punish the school for giving an inappropriate education to Muslim children, lasted for six hours. The school has an equal number of Muslim and Christian pupils.
A mob of Islamists stormed the school, scaled the wall, looted money and valuables, vandalized the cross on the street gate and replace it with a black banner which looked like the flag of al-Qaida, according to the school principal, Sister Manal.
The mob first set the school building on fire, and then ordered the staff out.
"We are nuns. We rely on God and the angels to protect us," Sister Manal, who was with other staff, was quoted as saying. "At the end, they paraded us like prisoners of war and hurled abuse at us as they led us from one alley to another without telling us where they were taking us," she said.
A former teacher of the school, who is Muslim, came to their help. "I remembered her, her name is Saadiyah. She offered to take us in and said she can protect us since her son-in-law was a policeman. We accepted her offer," Manal said.
Two Christian women employees, siblings Wardah and Bedour, were groped, hit and insulted by the mob as they fought their way out. "I looked at that and it was very nasty," said Manal.
In a separate incident, a Catholic school and a Christian orphanage were burned down in Minya.
In some parts of Minya, Islamists painted a red X on Muslim stores and a black X on Christian shops. Muslim stores were spared by mobs while property of Christians were looted.
Churches and other Christian property were also razed in Alexandria, Arish, Assiut, Cairo, Gharbiya, Giza, Qena, Sohag and Suez.
Two Christians have also been killed since Wednesday. A Christian taxi driver was killed by Morsi supporters in Alexandria after he strayed into their protests, and another Christian man was shot to death in Sohag province, according to AP.
Christians fear more attacks in the coming days. "I am terrified and unable to focus," Pastor Boulos Fahmy of a Catholic church near Manal's school was quoted as saying. "I am expecting an attack on my church any time now."
The Bible Society of Egypt has reported the burning down of its bookshops in Assiut and Minia cities in southern Egypt. "Fortunately we were closed today, fearing such an attack, so none of our staff were injured," Ramez Atallah, the society's general director, said in a statement on Wednesday. "The attackers demolished the metal doors protecting the bookshops, broke the store windows behind them and set the bookshops on fire."
"We would want the people who have done it to be brought to justice because I think they are trying to do something which is much more dangerous," Bishop Angaelos, the Cairo-born head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, told CNN. "It's not just about burning churches, it's about burning churches to initiate a response that then spirals into even greater violence – and that is a very, very dangerous game to play."
"We will continue speaking out against this and continue talking to all parties and all sides about renouncing this violence, about moving forward with a democratic process," U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf was quoted as saying, of the attacks on Christians in Egypt.
Egypt's Coptic Christians, who account for at least 10 percent of the population of more than 82 million, have faced numerous attacks since Mubarak's ouster in 2011. Attacks grew under Morsi's leadership, and are now reaching an unprecedented levels after Morsi's removal.