Cautionary Tale: Egypt’s Islamic Present Could Be the West’s Sharia Future

Christians of a Coptic church torched by jihadis celebrate Easter in the streets of Egypt.

By Raymond Ibrahim Published on May 3, 2024

An old drama highlighting the ongoing but wholly unacknowledged Muslim persecution of Christians is once again playing out in one of its primary theaters: Egypt.

On April 23, in al-Fawakhir village, more than 500 Muslims savagely attacked and torched the homes of Christians due to a rumor that a church was to be constructed in the village.

According to one report,

Extremists pelted Coptic homes with stones and chanted [Islamic] slogans [such as “Allahu Akbar”], setting fire to several houses amidst the screams of women and children. The attack continued for hours before security forces arrived. The magnitude of the fire was such that it could be seen from miles away.

Although in some cases Muslims tried to prevent Christians from escaping the infernos, no casualties were reported.

No Church for You

Though it is home to several hundred Christian families, al-Fawakhir, like most villages in Egypt, has no church. As a result, a Coptic priest might occasionally visit it and sometimes hold a service in a Christian home. This caused Muslims to launch a rumor that the home was going to be converted into a permanent church — to the point that:

‘Authorities sent a committee to inspect the place and ensure that no such “conversion” was taking place, nor being planned. Yet, local fanatics started agitating the populace and initiated the violence.’

Three days later, on April 26 — a Friday, when Muslims are wont to rile each other against “infidels” during mosque prayers and then rampage — fanatics of another village, al-Kom al-Ahmar, attacked its Christian minority for receiving a permit to construct an evangelical church.

Discussing these attacks, Adel Guindy, cofounder of Coptic Solidarity and author of A Sword Over the Nile, said

In an all too familiar development in Egypt’s countryside, Muslims, who may otherwise be content with a low grade life (e.g., no proper hospitals or public services), go into uncontrollable paroxysms at the mere hint that Christians might get a place to pray in—which in itself is no easy feat, as it requires governmental licensing that takes years or even decades to obtain. After fiery incitements, mobs attack Copts’ homes and businesses, all under the watchful eyes of the authorities who are usually, at least in part, complicit. Culprits are seldom, if ever, punished, thus inviting a sickening repeat of the ugly scenario.

A Pattern of Persecution

Indeed, as one report notes:

The attacks in al-Fawakhir are not isolated incidents. In recent years, there has been a disturbing increase in sectarian violence targeting Copts in Egypt. These attacks have ranged from property damage to arson and even murder. The underlying causes of this violence are complex and multifaceted, but they often stem from a combination of religious extremism, social discrimination, and political manipulation.

Not only that, but the patterns of persecution are often identical. Attacking Christians in Egypt due to rumors that they are building a church — or because they actually received a license to build a church — are immensely common. (See here, here, and here for examples from recent months.)

In one instance, last December, Muslims terrorized Christians because they received a permit to build a church (many years after first applying and continuously petitioning authorities). Among other violence, Muslims torched the home and some of the cattle of one of the Christians. Security forces were sent to bring order, and church building was temporarily halted (an important point to be revisited). Two days later, on December 18, the Christians were, according to an eyewitness,

shocked by the emergence of dozens of extremists, despite the presence of security. They attacked Coptic homes to takbirat [cries of “Allahu akbar”] and chants rejecting the construction of the church — “’Long and wide, we will bring the church to the ground” [which rhymes in Arabic]. They hurled rocks at some Coptic homes and set fire to others…. [T]he Copts are now living in a state of panic. All of them are [hiding] inside their homes.

Church Burning Encouraged by Egypt’s Constitution

Concomitant with these Muslim mob uprisings has been an increase in supposed “accidental” fires in churches in Egypt (the most recent example being a month old). In one month alone (August 2022), 11 churches “accidentally caught fire” (or so the authorities immediately concluded) — one burning 41 Christians alive (see here and here for more on this phenomenon). Considering that “close to one thousand churches have been attacked or torched by mobs in the last five decades [since the 1970s] in Egypt,” suspicion seems warranted.

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Muslim hostility for churches can be traced back to Article 2 of Egypt’s Constitution: “Islam is the religion of the State … The principles of Islamic Sharia are the main source of legislation.”

As it happens, Islamic Sharia is decidedly hostile to non-Muslim places of worship. According to the Conditions of Omar, a foundational text for Muslims concerning the treatment of Christian “infidels,” in order to exist within an Islamic state (meaning a former Christian nation conquered by Islam), Christians are commanded

Not to build a church in our city — nor a monastery, convent, or monk’s cell in the surrounding areas — and not to repair those that fall in ruins or are in Muslim quarters; Not to clang our cymbals except lightly and from the innermost recesses of our churches; Not to display a cross on them [churches], nor raise our voices during prayer or readings in our churches anywhere near Muslims… (as translated in Crucified Again, pp. 24-30).

Let Christians “Pray in the Rain”

Although that law is not strictly enforced, its “spirit” — which breeds hostility for churches among Egypt’s rank and file — clearly lives on, including among the authorities. As discussed here, in Egypt, there is one mosque or prayer hall for every 83 Muslims, but only one church for every 2,000 Christians. Millions of Egypt’s Christians are habitually begging their local authorities for permits to build churches.

Perhaps worst of all is the interplay between the “radicals” and the authorities, who almost always respond by appeasing the rioters and punishing the victims, that is, by rescinding permits to construct churches on the charge that they are “security risks.”

For example, on December 24, 2022 — Christmas Eve in the West — Muslims savagely attacked Christians after authorities had given them permission to fix their church’s collapsed roof, which had fallen on and hurt several worshippers. On the following day, the Muslim governor responded to the violence by rescinding the church’s permit to fix its crumbling roof, telling objecting Christians to “pray in the rain.”

Want to Close a Church? Just Start a Riot

In total, there are now more than 50 churches in Egypt that have been shut down on the dubious claim that they pose security threats — that is, because Muslims riot over their existence.

Consider the recollection of one Moheb, whose church was shut down in 2018:

A great deal of Muslim young men, aged 16-26, from our village and nearby gathered in front of our church building, shouting “Allahu Akbar” and chanting hostile slogans against Copts and the Church, such as, “We don’t want a church in our Islamic village”…. They tried to break the front door … but we locked [it] from the inside. We immediately called the police, who arrived and dispersed the demonstrators but they didn’t arrest anyone. They then closed the church building, sealed it, and placed security guards with it.

Responding to such closures, Gamil Ayed, a local Coptic lawyer, voiced a typical Christian sentiment:

We haven’t heard that a mosque was closed down, or that prayer was stopped in it because it was unlicensed. Is that justice? Where is the equality? Where is the religious freedom? Where is the law? Where are the state institutions?

After the closure of his church, another Christian, Rafaat Fawzy, expressed the undue hardships such unnecessary discrimination causes:

There are about 4,000 Christians in our village and we have no place to worship now. The nearest church is … 15km [nine miles] away. It is difficult to go [on foot] and pray in that church, especially for the old, the sick people, and kids.

He too continued by asking the same questions on the minds of millions of Christians in Egypt:

Where are our rights? There are seven mosques in our village and Muslims can pray in any place freely, but we are prevented from practicing our religious rites in a simple place that we have been dreaming of. Is that justice? We are oppressed in our country and there are no rights for us.

A final thought for Christians in the West: This anti-Christian, anti-church mentality is what the “elites” are importing into the West in the context of mass migration. It should make perfectly clear why, all throughout Western Europe, churches are routinely going up in flames.


Raymond Ibrahim, author of Defenders of the West and Sword and Scimitar, is the Distinguished Senior Shillman Fellow at the Gatestone Institute and the Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

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