Angry over what they saw as a coup, the attacks came as part of massive, nationwide protests culminating in a declared "Friday of rage."
Fewer than 12 hours after the Egyptian military announced that it had expelled Muslim Brotherhood-backed Mohamed Morsi and his cabinet members from office, reports of attacks against Christians by Morsi supporters began trickling in. The attacks picked up steam, and by Friday afternoon (July 5), the national police service notified church leaders to be on the lookout for license plate numbers of several cars that informants said terrorists had packed with explosives, a source who requested anonymity told Morning Star News. The source said police informed Christian leaders that the cars were headed toward churches in Cairo and the surrounding area looking for targets.
Christians across the country were uncertain about their future, wondering if the violence would be short-lived or whether the past week was the start of a civil war in which they would be targeted as Christians in Syria are.
"This is just the beginning," said one Coptic Christian woman from Upper Egypt who requested anonymity for fear of her safety. "They won't be happy until they steal everything we own and kill us all. How can anyone be full of so much hate? If I took my eyes off God, I would shrink and die."
The first attack happened in the early morning hours of Wednesday (July 3) in the village of Delgia in Deir Mawas, Minya Governorate. Dozens of Morsi supporters attacked Al Eslah Church, a building that belongs to an evangelical congregation. They fired shots at and looted the church building, sources said; there were multiple reports that the building had been burned, though that could not be confirmed with certainty. They also attacked some Coptic-owned homes in the area.
Witnesses said the mob then moved on to a Catholic church in Delgia, St. George Church, and set aflame a guest-house where a priest lives. The mob also pelted the church building with rocks, fired weapons at it and destroyed the priest's car, Morning Star News learned from the witnesses.
The priest was in the guest-house when it was set on fire, but he was able to make it to a hole in the roof, where a group of Muslim neighbors pulled him out and hid him from the mob. The priest suffered only superficial injuries, but the guest-house was destroyed along with several Christian-owned businesses, according to church officials.
Later the same day, a group of Islamists tried to attack the main Coptic cathedral in Qena, but the military fought them off. The group moved on to attack Christian-owned homes and businesses in the area, sources said. Also on Wednesday (July 3), a mob attacked the Church of the Holy Virgin in the coastal town of Marsa Matrouh with stones, but the military also repelled them.
"It is a miracle no one was killed in the attacks – I am really worried about my family, because they live so close to the church," the woman from Upper Egypt told Morning Star News. "They can be attacked any time now."
On Friday (July 5), arguably the worst attack happened in Naga Hassan village, west of Luxor. Its origins cannot be confirmed, but according to The Egypt Independent, a Muslim was killed in a fight with a Coptic Christian. In the rioting that followed, Muslim villagers went on a rampage, looting and burning Christian owned homes and businesses.
Dozens of Coptic homes were burned down, according to the Independent. Expecting more attacks, police have asked Copts in the village to leave their homes until the fighting stops, Morning Star News learned from other sources. Also attacked was the Church of the Virgin Mary in downtown Luxor, located directly across from a madrassa (Islamic school) run by Salafists, strict Sunni Muslims who pattern their practice after the earliest generations of Muslims. No one was harmed in any of the attacks, and damages were unknown.
On Sunday (June 30), millions of protestors from the Tamard or "Rebel" movement gathered in cities across Egypt demonstrating against then-President Morsi, of the Freedom and Justice Party, a political party created by the Muslim Brotherhood. The month prior, activists went throughout the country collecting signatures of people demanding his ouster and inviting them to the June 30 protest. According to the activists, they collected 22 million signatures.
The members of the group had a long list of offenses they say Morsi committed, from unilaterally issuing decrees to seize power from other branches of the government to filling appointed government positions with hard-line Islamic allies while ignoring other segments of the Egyptian population.
They also accused him of being incompetent in handling the economy. During his year in office, revenues from tourism plummeted, rolling blackouts became common, the price of food staples rose dramatically and the country began experiencing fuel shortages. During the entire month that the petition was distributed, people commonly waited three to six hours in line for gas, even in the best neighborhoods in Cairo.
At the same time, crime spiraled out of control and riots became a daily occurrence.
On Wednesday (July 3) Egypt's military chief announced that Morsi had been deposed, and the next day Supreme Constitutional Court Chief Justice Adly Mansour was sworn in as Egypt's interim president. Morsi was said to be under arrest.
Samia Sidhom, managing editor of the Coptic Weekly Watani, said people wanted Morsi out because he was more interested in consolidating the power of the Muslim Brotherhood than putting Egypt on a solid road to the future. The Freedom and Justice party also lied to the public in a brazen fashion on a daily basis, she added.
"Their priority was not the Egyptian people, but establishing an Islamic caliphate," she said. "They said they would be inclusive; that they would make Egypt a prosperous country. But once they got into office, they did the exact opposite."
Sidhom said the attacks, although horrible, were to be expected.
"Everyone was expecting they would take their revenge," she said.
In the month leading up to the protests, when the success of the petition against Morsi became evident, his supporters and other hard-line Muslims began threatening Christians on television and in Brotherhood and Salafist-owned newspapers. When Morsi was forced from office, Islamists across the board blamed Christians, the military and "secularists." In numerous television talk shows and religious shows, they called for Christian "blood to be spilled."
A jihadist Website blamed Christians for Morsi's downfall, The Washington Post reported on Friday (July 5). Stating that Muslim extremists within and outside of Egypt had called for violence, the newspaper reported that the Website announced a new group, Ansar al-Sharia in Egypt (Partisans for Sharia in Egypt), which "rejected democracy as anti-Islamic and called on Egyptian Muslims to 'truly rise against everyone who stands in the path of implementation of the Sharia.'"
A pastor from Kasr El Dobara Evangelical Church who is politically active, Fawzi Wahib, said he is hopeful about the future, but he was more reflective about the present.
"I feel we pay the price of freedom," he said.