A mob attacked Christian homes in Egypt merely because of a rumour that a church might be built

This magazine has reported on the latest outbreak of anti-Christian violence in Egypt. This is something that obviously concerns the Catholic Herald, but it should concern others too, including non-Catholics and non-Christians. It is disappointing that this story has attracted little attention, though perhaps understandable, given that such stories have become commonplace.

The Christians of Manshiet El-Naghamish number several thousands, but they have no church. The mob that attacked them did so thinking they were trying to construct one. This sad situation is common in Egypt, where church-building and even church repairs require special permission from the government, which is often very hard to obtain.

But of course this is not simply a dispute about planning permission. Far from it. The underlying cause of these sorts of outbreaks of violence lie in the Muslim understanding of the status of Christians in a Muslim-majority land. Christians cannot, in the eyes of most Muslims, be given the same rights as Muslims. There can be no equality between believer and unbeliever. Hence the fact that legally, when it comes to Church building, the Christians are on the back foot. As in Church building, so in so many other spheres of life: Christians, especially poor ones, are subject to numerous acts of discrimination, some minor, some major.

We are told that the Egyptian government will arrest the perpetrators, and I am sure that it will do its best to enforce justice, particularly as it knows that such outbreaks are a very bad advertisement for Egypt.

But the problem needs to be tackled at its root, which is to say that it is not the law that is at fault, or even law enforcement, but the attitudes of Muslims to Christians in Egypt. It is noteworthy that this attack took place after Friday prayers. In other words, someone, in some mosque, roused the mob and incited it to attack the Christians. These incitements too are all too common, as we have seen recently in Indonesia and in Pakistan.

Just as the problem is caused by so-called “radical” clerics inciting people against Christians, the solution can only be found by religious “moderates” preaching tolerance and mutual respect. But, alas, 14 years after 9/11, those Islamic “moderates” in the countries where they are really needed are as elusive as ever.