(Photo: Open Doors)
Christian leaders in Egypt and the United States are calling for an end to the violence in Cairo after deadly clashes on Sunday left at least 26 dead and more than 200 injured following protests by Coptic Christians against growing persecution.
Officials at Open Doors USA, a ministry for persecuted believers, said contacts in Cairo are reporting that the violence was initiated by the Egyptian government’s security forces. Also, Christians inside Egypt told Open Doors that excessive force was used against people who were protesting peacefully.
“We really need to pray for the Christians there and the uncertain future that they face,” Open Doors USA spokesman Jerry Dykstra told The Christian Post. “Many people in Egypt, including Christians in general, are frustrated that since the fall of Mubarak in January there has not been a lot of movement toward democracy.”
“There is no reason for disrupting and killing people who are just doing peaceful demonstrations,” he added.
Violence erupted in the streets of Cairo Sunday when Coptic Christians protested the burning of a church in southern Egypt a week ago, according to media reports.
In an email received by Open Doors within the past day, a pastor from the area stated, “We had to finish our evening service early last night as we could hear the guns firing and it sounded like a war was breaking out … but the church is still open for services. We anticipate that our normal prayer meeting this afternoon, attended by around 1,200 people, will be a powerful time of prayer. Thank you so much for praying for us and we too continue to pray for you.”
The response from the Islamic community has been divided, according to Open Doors officials. “Some moderate Muslims have been helping and defending Christians, but more radical Muslims have been stopping drivers to ask if they are Christians and then breaking their windows and damaging their cars.
“Further reports have been received of violence being carried out against Christians in provinces in the south of the country,” reported Open Doors officials.
Carl Moeller, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, called for a halt to the violence and asked Christians to pray for peace and calm. Some leaders in the Christian community in and outside Egypt are calling for a three-day fast beginning Tuesday.
Egypt's Coptic church leaders are also asking that believers pray during the three days to mourn Christians killed in the clashes.
"Please pray with me for a halt to the loss of lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ in Egypt," Moeller said in a statement. "Pray for calm. Pray for those who have resorted to killing and wounding to stop their actions."
According to Moeller, Egyptian Christians are frustrated over a string of church bombings and closures taking place this year. A suicide bomber killed 22 Christians in front of the Two Saints Church in Alexandria on New Year’s Day.
"Instead of more freedom since the end of the Hosni Mubarak regime in January, Christians have been even more targeted by Muslim extremists," he lamented. "And they feel the current military leaders have done little to protect them and insure their religious rights."
Attacks on Coptic churches are part of an increasing trend in Egypt. The cycle of violence includes the act of a government official in a province or municipality granting permission for a church to be built or reopened and hardline Muslims threatening violence if services take place, according to Compass Direct News.
Coptic church leaders accuse the government of playing a colluding role in the violence by not enforcing the recently expanded Emergency Law. The law stipulates imprisonment as a penalty for acts of sectarian strife, "thuggery" and vandalism of private property, Compass reports.
Egypt is ranked No. 19 on the Open Doors 2011 World Watch List of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians. Egypt has the largest Christian minority in the Middle East – an estimated 10 million. The population of Egypt is 80 million.
"This is a time for the entire body of Christ to pray for the church in Egypt and the entire region. It is also a time for all peoples of every religion to come together and work for true freedom, democracy and peace," Moeller urged.