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Between saints

Security forces take security measures at site after an explosion at Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt on 11 December, 2016 [Ahmed Gamil /Anadolu Agency]
Security forces take security measures at site after an explosion at Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt on 11 December, 2016 [Ahmed Gamil /Anadolu Agency]

While the world was celebrating the birth of the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him), an explosion ripped through Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo during Sunday Mass. Twenty-three people were killed and 45 were wounded. The whole world was informed of this and the news agencies spread the news across the various modes of media.

Of course, this is a heinous act, a terrorist act committed against the main Coptic Christian community in the east, in the heart of Cairo. This means that there has been a grave security flaw, especially since this cathedral is surrounded by a high-security fence, equipped with surveillance cameras and the latest technology, meaning no one can pass through. It is considered the second most guarded site in Egypt, after the presidential palace, and even has its own private security provided by a security company owned by Christian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, who is very close to the church and one of its most loyal worshippers.

This raises questions regarding who committed the crime and reminds us of a similar incident six years ago, at around the same time of year in 2001, at the Coptic Orthodox church of Saint Mark and Pope Peter in Alexandria. The same number of people were killed.

When the revolution occurred and the State Security Agency building was stormed, papers and correspondence between the then interior minister, Habib Adly, and ousted President Hosni Mubarak were found, they showed that the Egyptian Interior Ministry was responsible for the church bombing, on Adly's orders and with the approval of Mubarak. Mubarak later offered his condolences to the Copts, declared a state of mourning in the country, and framed a young Salafist man named Sayed Belal, who was killed under torture.

The same thing is happening today. Al-Sisi offered his condolences after the criminal act. On the evening of the bombing, the deputy interior minister announced the perpetrator had been found, a woman who packed 20 kilogrammes of explosives to her chest. They chose a woman because the bombing occurred in the women's prayer room and all of the victims were women except for one man. This announcement was a source of ridicule and mockery on Facebook and Twitter. How can a woman carry 20 kilogrammes of explosives on her chest? Who is this iron woman!

However, the next morning, during the funeral attended by Al-Sisi, he had another opinion of who bombed the church. He said that a man named Mahmoud Shafik Mohamed Mostafa, 22, bombed the church with an explosive belt and said that he wouldn't have attended the funeral until after the real perpetrator was found! This caused a stalemate between the interior ministry, media, and coroner, who had previously confirmed that it is impossible for the bombing to have been caused by an explosive belt or vest. In addition to this, the suspect was arrested in 2014, at the age of 16. He was sentenced to two years in prison and, after serving his time, he travelled to Sudan, according to reports on satellite television by his mother. A picture of the suspect, which was published in the media, wasn't even of him. It is both ironic and funny that they claimed to have found his ID and mobile phone at the scene of the bombing, meaning everything was bombed and destroyed except for his things and his head, which they photographed.

The government found no other way out of this predicament than through Daesh, which is always ready and at the beck and call of any treacherous tyrant. Daesh immediately issued a statement claiming responsibility for the bombing and blessed the perpetrator, calling him a martyr. It is noteworthy that they mentioned another name, Abu Abdullah Al-Masri. We don't know if this is Mahmoud Shafik Mohamed Mostafa's nickname or someone else.

Interestingly, another joke, albeit an unfortunate one, one of many in Egypt since the coup, is the fact that one of the disreputable MPs proposed a draft law which would imprison anyone who disputes or disproves Al-Sisi. A three-year jail term was suggested. Egypt is living in a dark comedy; is there a saviour?

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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