Archbishop Mouneer Anis, primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East, is requesting prayers from Anglicans worldwide following today’s clashes in Egypt, which resulted in the death of at least 150 people and the burning of churches and government buildings.
“Please pray that the situation will calm down, for wisdom and tact for the police and the army, for the safety of all churches and congregations, and that all in Egypt would be safe,” said Anis in a statement.
Violent clashes erupted in various Egyptian cities after riot police tried to clear two camps set up in Cairo by protesters demanding the reinstatement of deposed president Mohammed Morsi. The first democratically-elected head of state in Egypt, Morsi was ousted in a July 3 coup and replaced with a military-backed interim government. His ouster came after hundreds of thousands protested his move to grant himself unlimited powers shortly after his election.
Egypt’s Interim President Adly Mansour has declared a month-long state of emergency, according to the Associated Press.
Anis said that as he was writing the statement, he received reports that St. Saviour’s Anglican Church in Suez, a seaport city located in north-eastern Eygpt, was under heavy attack from Morsi supporters.
The priest in charge, Rev. Ehab Ayoub and his family, a lay minister and a guard narrowly escaped harm “after a mob armed with rocks and petrol bombs were kept out of his church building by steel window bars,” the Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS) also reported. They were trapped for hours, until an army came with tanks and personnel and rescued them, it added.
A Catholic church in Suez and Orthodox churches in Menyia and Suhag in Upper Egypt also came under attack, said Anis.
In Canada, Foreign Minister John Baird has issued a statement expressing concern about the violence in Egypt and calling on both sides “to avoid violence” and to “immediately sit down together, reconcile their differences and work tirelessly to halt this deadly standoff.” Baird also urged all Egyptians “to show restraint and resolve in the coming days.”
Canada “firmly believes that implementing a transparent democratic system that respects the voices of all Egyptians, including members of civil society and religious minorities, is the best way to restore calm and give all Egyptians a stake in the future stability and prosperity of their country,” added Baird.
Last month, Dr. Andrew Bennett, Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom, issued a statement calling on Egyptian authorities to protect religious leaders from violence and intimidation. “The targeting of religious leaders is unacceptable,” said Bennett, who issued a statement after the shooting of Coptic Christian priest Mina Aboud Sharween near El Arish in Northern Sinai. “At this critical time in Egypt’s democratic transition, Canada will continue to support a pluralist democratic Egypt that protects the right of all Egyptians, regardless of faith, to live in peace.”
There have been conflicting reports about the nature of today’s crackdown against pro-Morsi supporters -predominantly from the Muslim Brotherhood – and the violence that ensued.
Anis said that prior to the crackdown, police and army had encouraged Morsi supporters, who had been in camps for six weeks, to “leave safely and go home.” While many protestors left, “others resisted… and started to attack the police,” he added. “The police and army were very professional in responding to the attacks, and they used tear gas only when it was necessary. The police then discovered caches of weapons and ammunition in these sites…”
Violent protests broke out in other cities shortly after the crackdown in Cairo, said Anis. Morsi supporters “have threatened that if they are dispersed from the current sites, they will move to other sites and continue to protest,” he added. “They also threatened to use violence.”
Pro-Morsi supporters claimed that police used live ammunition during the crackdown, a charge that Egypt’s Interior Ministry has denied.
– With files from the Anglican Communion News Service.