The persecution of Egypt's Coptic Christians

"60 Minutes" reports on the Copts, Egypt's Christians who have suffered one of their worst periods in nearly 2,000 years

The ongoing political violence in Egypt has led to unprecedented attacks on the country's Coptic Christian minority, the worst in their history.  Copts, who make up roughly 10 percent of the Egyptian population, were the target of revenge by Muslim mobs this summer after Egypt's first Islamist president was overthrown in a military coup. Over 40 Christian churches all over Egypt were gutted by arson and looted -- some over a thousand years old and full of priceless relics. Copts have also been murdered in ongoing sectarian violence. Bob Simon reports from Egypt on the Copts, in a story to be broadcast on 60 Minutes Sunday, Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. on the CBS Television Network.

Human rights groups say the attacks were reprisals carried out by Islamist supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. When Egypt's military removed Morsi, supporters protested the move with speeches and sit-ins that led to a brutal crackdown by the Egyptian military that resulted in the deaths of up to a 1,000 people.  Copts and their churches became targets, after their leader, Pope Tawadros II, appeared in public with the new military leadership.  This "dangerous" tableau created an explosive perception, fueling angry mobs, says Heba Morayef, who heads Human Rights Watch in Egypt. "Accusations that Christians were responsible for the coup. Chants that would call Christians 'the pope's dogs,'" could be heard at demonstrations, she tells Simon.

Simon interviewed the caretaker of one Coptic Church located outside Cairo in Kerdasa. A mob, he says, broke down the gate and entered the church.  "They looted everything, from chairs to pews," says Redha Girgis.  "They stole anything that could be carried, what they couldn't carry, they destroyed," he says.  "They set the whole place on fire with Molotov cocktails and gasoline."

60 Minutes cameras panned the exterior of the building where the attackers had left graffiti that said, "Egypt is Islamic."

Coptic services were held in Kerdasa in the only hall in the Coptic church complex undamaged by arson. Simon attended one such service where, he reports, the mood was not one of revenge. One of the Coptic Church's senior leaders, Bishop Thomas, says revenge is not his religion's way.  "Forgiveness is a very important principle in the Christian life," he tells Simon.  "When you are able to present forgiveness, and love, you are able as well to ask for justice."

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