Tensions continue to increase in Egypt.  Egypt’s Christian community is recently coming under pressure and protests as Mohamed Morsi’s supporters take to the street to voice their support. Christian neighborhoods and cities are now becoming staging grounds for anti-Christian rallies and some are beginning to wonder if it is only a matter of time before the situation develops into a full blown crisis.

Mohamed Morsi

Ouster of Mohamed Morsi leads to anti-Christian protests and activities

Southern Egypt is becoming a particular hot spot for anti-Christian protests and activities. While Cairo and other major cities are under the tight control of the military, the military does not have as extensive of a presence in smaller towns. Christians in these towns are now the target of reprisals. So far, most of the reprisals have been limited to marches, protests, graffiti tagging, and damage to private property. If is fair to wonder, however, if conditions could develop into a full blown crisis.

Christian killings brought about ouster of Mohamed Morsi

Thankfully, “only” seven Christians have been killed in the aftermath of Mohamed Morsi’s ouster. While this number is low, it does point to the simmering tensions between conservative and radical Muslims and the Christian community. Christians make up only about 10% of the population in Egypt, far too small to be able to sway national events.

Christian community supported opposition of  Mohamed Morsi

Still, the Christians by-and-large supported Mohamed Morsi’s opposition, fearing that a hard-lined Muslim government would eventually move to oppress, or at least suppress, the Christian minority. Under Mubarak’s relatively secular government, the various religious communities and factions lived in relative harmony. Indeed, when Hosni Mubarak was thrown from power, people from across the religious spectrum came together to voice their dissent. Now, Christians are becoming the target of conservative Muslim backlash in the aftermath of the ouster of Mohamed Morsi.

Part of it could be due to the long simmering tensions between the two communities. Further, Christians and Christian neighborhoods are easier to identify than trying to figure out whether a Muslim is “conservative” or “moderate”. At the same time, since Christians constitute less than 10% of the population, they do not have the political clout of the moderate Muslim community. All of these factors combine to make the Christian community a vulnerable target to any reprisals.

Risk for violence against Christians from Mohamed Morsi supporters

An actual genocide is highly unlikely, owing to the watchful eye of the international community, and the strength of the moderate Egyptian army. The risk for increased violence against Christians, however, is very real. If conditions continue to worsen and a peace-bargaining protests and spray paintings could morph into riots and the wholesale destruction of private property.

And attacks against the Christian community could quickly develop into widespread fighting across Egypt. Most likely, the moderate Islamic community will be forced to step in and side with the Christian community. Moderate Muslims could even use the attacks as an excuse to oppress their radical counterparts. The military will also be forced to step in to maintain peace, and while Egypt’s armed forces have shown considerable restraint, widespread rioting could result in the use of more brutal counter measures.

Protests on ouster of Mohamed Morsi leading Egypt to ruins

Easing ideological and religious tensions is obviously a priority in Egypt, however, the issue is immensely complex. The differences between the moderate and modernizing Muslim and Christian communities, and the more hard-lined Islamic factions, are quite extensive. Mediations with the international community have already failed. Meanwhile, the military has proven that it is not capable of governing outright, even though it is capable of maintaining order.

If political leaders do not work quickly to ease tensions, the risk of more violent reprisals and protests will continue to increase. It may only be a matter of time before protesters start to storm stores and attack people. The people now using spray paint cans to tag buildings may soon be lobbing Molotov cocktails and rocks, and verbal insults may quickly turn into physical attacks.