Christians Killed in Egypt Reflect Growing Hatred in Segments of Society

Coptic teacher in Minya Province, woman in Cairo latest victims of vitriol.

Engraved image at Temple of Kom Ombo, Egypt. (Eliane Ceccon)

Engraved image at Temple of Kom Ombo, Egypt. (Eliane Ceccon)

ISTANBUL, Turkey (Morning Star News) – A Coptic Christian teacher in Egypt allegedly shot by the teenage brother of one of his students has died, human rights activists said yesterday.

Ashraf Alahm Atef Hanna, an English teacher at Marzouk Prep School in the village of Marzouk in Minya Province, succumbed to injuries from the shooting on Tuesday (April 8). He was 35.

In what some activists said was a sign of both endemic disrespect toward educators and the vitriol of some segments of Egyptian society toward Christians, Hanna was shot in the head on April 1 by the 16-year-old Muslim brother of one of his students. According to human rights activists and local media sources, the teacher caught one of his students smoking in class. When the teacher told the boy to stop smoking, the Muslim student cursed at the teacher and insulted him in front of class.

The teacher responded by striking the student, allowed under school guidelines, and the boy stormed out of the class in anger.

The student later returned to the school with his family, which area residents said has ties to local Islamic extremist groups. The group chased the teacher through the school, and after catching him, they beat him and shot him once in the head. He was taken immediately to a hospital, where he lay near death for a week.

Authorities arrested at least four members of the family, including Mohamed Naser Mustafa, the one alleged to have shot Hanna.

Mina Thabet, spokesman and founding member of The Maspero Youth Union, said that the near constant din of anti-Christian vitriol from Islamists that creates and reinforces hate toward the Copts is to blame for the killing.

“They have an ideology about creating the ‘other,’” he said. “That’s the problem. They hate everyone different from them. The hate speech is responsible for the majority of sectarian violence and the majority of killings in Egypt.”

The most recent killing comes during a recent spate of seemingly random attacks against Copts in Egypt, including the shooting death of a 25-year-old Coptic woman, Mary Sameh George.

On March 28, in the Ain Shams section of Cairo, George was shot while on her way to take money to three people she knew from a ministry in which she was involved.

Contrary to multiple reports, George was not stabbed or strangled but had been shot in the chest at least once through the windshield of her car, according to her father, Sameh George. He examined her body and said there were no signs of stabbing or strangling.

She was driving near the Church of the Virgin Mary and the Archangel Michael in Ain Shams, where supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood were rioting. According to George, the mob spotted a cross in her car and a pair of cross earrings she was wearing and, along with the fact that she wasn’t wearing a veil, they discerned that she was a Christian.

The mob pulled her out of her car after she was dead or close to dying, he determined, and then set the vehicle on fire. They left her corpse in the street.

Eyewitness reports of George being stabbed and/or strangled were likely rooted in the chaotic scene and the fact that in the same general area on the same day she was shot, a female journalist and three other Muslims were killed.

No charges have been filed in the killings, and no confirmation of arrests has been released by the government.

George was a law school graduate who was working at a small private company. Her father said that, contrary to media reports, she was not engaged. She had recently told her father that she had no desire to get married because she wanted to dedicate all of her energy to serving God and helping Cairo’s many poor.

“She told me, ‘What good are other people getting out of it?’” Sameh George said. “She said she preferred to work with ministries.”

George said he was devastated by the killing and that his wife is utterly shattered. She is unable to speak to anyone about the loss of her daughter. Still, he said, his daughter’s death has taught a valuable if bitter lesson.

“From what happened to my daughter we learned that we have to be ready,” he said. “We all have to wake up. There is no guarantee when someone is going to die. So we have to start getting prepared now…That’s the thing that we all woke up to.”

On the day Hanna died, several gunmen opened fire on a Coptic-owned electric supply store in the Al-Matariyyah area of Cairo. Although unrelated to the shooting, the attack was widely believed to be part of an effort to incite attacks on Copts in southern Cairo. Two brothers suffered serious injuries, but despite their shop being gutted by bullet fire, they were not killed. No arrests were made in the killing.

On Monday (April 7) a Muslim tried to set fire to the Virgin Mary Church in Mansheet Nasr, on the outskirts of Cairo, by pouring gasoline on the one of the church buildings. Copts at the building turned him away, but he returned later with an unspecified weapon. Thabet of the Maspero group said three people were seriously injured and needed hospitalization.

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