Coptic Christians in the Upper Egyptian city of Minya are managing to restrain their anger despite a wave of devastating attacks on their churches and institutions by enraged Islamists.
Tensions are still running high more than two weeks after the attacks in the city some 250 kilometres (155 miles) south of Cairo but there have been no calls for vengeance, nor any fiery rhetoric.
“I say to the Islamists who attacked us that we are not afraid of their violence and their desire to exterminate the Copts,” said Botros Fahim Awad Hanna, the archbishop of Minya.
“If we are not hitting back, it is not because we are afraid, but because we are sensible,” he said.
Enraged by a bloody crackdown mid-August on protests in support of ousted president Mohamed Morsi in Cairo, Islamists lashed out at Coptic Christians in Minya, accusing them of backing the military that toppled the head of state.
The Copts, who account for some 10 million out of Egypt’s population of 80 million, had already suffered persecution in recent years.
But they say they have never such a systematic campaign as this.
“We were expecting a violent reaction but not on this scale, which suggests it was well prepared,” the archbishop said.
In the greater Minya province, where Christians account for about one-fifth of the five million population, Christians say they have suffered systematic and coordinated violence since mid-August.
According to Human Rights Watch, more than 40 churches have been attacked in Egypt since August 14, when the security forces launched a bloody crackdown against demonstrations demanding the return of Morsi, who was toppled by the military on July 3.
The attacks have been concentrated in Minya and Assiut, in central Egypt, where attackers torched 11 and eight churches respectively, the US-based rights group said.
Islamists accused Egypt’s Copts of throwing their weight behind the military coup that removed from power the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails.
The perception was fuelled by the fact that Coptic Pope Tawadros II appeared with army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi when he spoke on television to announce Morsi’s removal from office.
At the ruins of Saint Moses’ church in Minya, Bassam Youssef, a Copt, despairs at the sight of the rounded building with its clock tower, now ravaged by fire.
“Some 500 extremists attacked the building and set it on fire,” Youssef recalled.
“We did not expect such violence,” he added, showing pictures of the church before its destruction.