Children resident in the orphanage had been moved from their building for safety because of a pro-Morsi sit-in nearby which began on June 30 and during which inflammatory anti-Christian slogans had repeatedly been chanted. During the attack itself, Adly says that mosques used their microphones to entreat people to “undertake jihad” and “defend Islam.”
There had been repeated warnings that attacks on Christians would be likely following the dispersal: Speakers at the Rabea al-Adaweya sit-in regularly spouted sectarian rhetoric and Muslim Brotherhood websites have repeatedly alleged that the military intervention that unseated Morsi was part of a plot in which the church played a leading role.
During the Brotherhood’s ill-fated sit-in, non-stop sermons frequently alleged Christian complicity in a global anti-Muslim plot. Salafist television stations have repeated claims of arms being stashed in churches.
Waguih al-Shimi, a former member of parliament for Nazla from the Salafist al-Nour party, says that while he disapproves of targeting Christians he understands what motivates their persecutors. Many Muslims, he says, were angered when the Coptic pope, Tawadros II, appeared next to Egypt’s defence minister as he announced the army coup. Salafist websites, according to Mr Shimi, have featured photographs showing soldiers raising the cross in triumph after shooting Islamist protesters. “Considering what has happened to Muslims,” says Mr Shimi, “we can thank God it was only Christian property, not people, that got hurt.”
In the Minya bishopric Bishop Makarious held a Christian inter-denominational meeting to discuss events. He spoke of a “horizontal” and “vertical” approach to Egypt’s sectarian problem — the horizontal approach encouraging friendly interaction between Muslims and Christians, the exchange of festival greetings and so on, while the vertical approach involves challenging prevailing cultural norms.
This, Makarious suggests, “will take decades.” He put the issue of Minya’s sectarianism in context alongside its myriad other problems: unemployment, high pollution rates and a serious hepatitis C problem. Attitudes must be changed by amending the school syllabus (“why does a 5-year-old hate Christians?”), controlling inflammatory mosque sermons and placing regulations on media to police discriminatory content.
Makarious is not optimistic, however, about the speed of change: “These events have set [Muslim-Christian] relations back 20-30 years.”
That optimistically assumes some sort of upward trend was happening or will happen. There doesn’t seem to be any sign of that. Not when Islamists have more influence now than they did then.