A tragic incident occurred on 1st of January in Alexandria, Egypt, when a car exploded outside the Coptic Church caused by a suicide bomber. The blast happened right after midnight as the New Year’s service had ended and the worshippers were leaving the building. 21 people died and 97 injured, making this the second Christmas overshadowed with bloodshed for the Coptic’s. After the explosion, some Christian Coptic’s clashed with the police in anger as they hurled; “with our blood and soul we redeem the cross”. Soon after they clashed with Muslim’s as both sides began to throw stones and bottles at each other on the streets.
The person behind this heinous act is believed to be linked to the terrorist organization Al-Qaida, who has for some time carried out various campaigns of attacks and sieges against the Christians in Iraq, killing 68 in a Church siege in October and 2 more on Thursday. Before the bombing of the Church in Alexandria, the Egyptian government had received threats against the Copt’s.
The protests in Cairo and northern part of Alexandria raised many questions about the countries stability and many have criticized the government for not doing enough for the minorities such as the Coptic Christians. The protests started as a condemnation but quickly changed into an anti-government protest. More and more Egyptians raise their voice in anger and frustration for the incompetence the government has shown against the discrimination and threats, and also for President Mubarak’s unwillingness to step aside from power after ruling for three decades. It gets more and more obvious how corrupt, undemocratic and ineffective the government is. An example of this is the fall elections where President Mubarak’s ruling party took the step to claim 97%of the parliamentary seats and making it so fraudulent that the opposition parties withdrew in protest. The government is clearly failing both in ruling and to create a social cohesion program that addresses to every citizen making them feel that they belong to the society as equal citizens.
Discrimination and Marginalization
Christian’s make up 10% of Egypt’s mainly large Muslim population of nearly 80 million people and clearly a minority that has complained over the lack of political representation and a long time of economically and socially discrimination. The disputes and clashes between the Coptic Christians and Muslims has escalated and got more widespread the recent years starting with minor disputes between neighbors to divisive decisions made by public officials and judges.
The Saints Church in Alexandria was targeted in April 2006 when a man with knife stabbed some of the worshippers. January 7 turned out to be a bloody day for the Christians as a gunman opened fire into a crowd outside a church killing 7 people after the midnight mass in the village of Nag Hammadi, Upper Egypt. Millions of Copts in Egypt celebrate Christmas each year in early January because of the difference between the Coptic and Gregorian calendar. But the latest attack came at a time where sectarian tension was already rising in the country. November last year, hundreds of Christians in Cairo rioted together smashing cars and windows when police stopped the construction of a church.
So why was the security so poor at a critical and sensitive time where threats were made against the Christians? Only 3 soldiers and 1 officer were placed outside and they ended up among the wounded. The government on their side said that they stepped up the security measures outside the churches after receiving threats from Al-Qaida. Something interesting is the fact that Egypt receives $1,3billion in military aid from USA making them the only Arab Nation in the middle east receiving that much (only Israel receives more), but the relationship has gone cold because of the opposition Egypt showed to the Iraq war and Mubarak’s human rights abuse and the indirect dictatorship he carries out. Egypt’s security services has kept a lid and downplayed the threat of domestic terrorism for a while and this has angered many. The President was fast to urge the Egyptian Muslims and Christians to stand united against terrorism and made it clear that “this terrorist operation bears the hallmark of foreign hands who wishes to destabilize Egypt”.
Last week on Thursday night, Muslims kept their word and showed solidarity when thousands of Muslims showed up at the Coptic Christmas eve mass services in the church around the country, as they offered their bodies as “human shields” and marked a pledge to connectively fight the threat of militants. “We either live together or die together” was the slogan.
An overview of the Coptic Christians
There are about 20 million Coptic Orthodox Christians in the world and between 12-15 million are to be found in Egypt only. The first Christians in Egypt were common people who spoke Egyptian Coptic. When the St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo was founded by St. Mark himself during the reign off Roman Emperor Nero, a great number of native Egyptians embraced the Christian faith. Also writings found in Bahnasa dating back to 200AD together with a fragment of the gospel of John, written in Coptic that dates back to the 2nd century shows that the Coptic’s has a long history in Egypt. In the 2nd century, Christianity began to spread to the rural areas and scriptures were translated into Coptic, a language that was local. After the invasion of Arab Muslims around the 7th century AD, the church suffered a slow decline but in the 20th century, it experienced an unexpected renaissance.
The perpetrators of this attack were undoubtly targeting the Copt’s and this shows that they have no respect for human life and dignity. Islam does not allow to take another innocent life and these barbaric people should not carry out these acts in the name of Islam but terrorism. Sinful acts like this are only driving the people from each other instead of bringing them towards each other making a big gap between them. Egypt has had many dynasties and faiths from the ancient time, and today the majority is Muslims. They are all Egyptian citizens and should see each other as equal individuals rather than killing or discriminating each other. We live in the 21st century where most people around the world have the freedom to choose their own faith. We should not use our time on ignorance and hate but rather respect of each others choice of belief.