Portuguese / Spanish / English

Middle East Near You

Egypt’s Christians have been forgotten by the church and the government

Image of Coptic Christians [File photo]
Image of Coptic Christians [File photo]

In early December relatives of 29 Christians killed in a church bombing carried the coffins of the deceased through the streets of Nasr City, a district in Cairo, to be buried. It was only later that the terror group Daesh claimed responsibility for the blast, which hit the church during a Sunday service.

In recent months it is not just Egypt’s capital that has witnessed deadly attacks against the Christian community – Daesh in Egypt, which previously targeted police, soldiers and security officers, has stepped up attacks on Christians who live in the Sinai Peninsula.

Last month the terror group launched a 21-day shooting spree in the town of Arish, the largest city in the North Sinai governorate. Fighters stormed the home of an elderly man, shot him in the head and then burnt his son alive before dumping their bodies behind a school and killing five others. In the aftermath, hundreds of Coptic Christians fled Sinai and sought refuge in a youth hostel in Ismailia, a town some 100 kilometres outside of Cairo.

The group released a video not long afterwards, a rallying call to all its supporters in Egypt to attack Christians across the country. It showcased footage of the suicide bomber responsible for the December bombing in Cairo and declared that Christians in Egypt are infidels who empower the West against Muslims. Militants have also circulated death lists online and warned Christians to leave or die.

In recent history the Coptic Church in Egypt has become well known for cosying up to whichever military despot is in power – Pope Shenouda was close to Mubarak as is the incumbent Pope, Tawadros II, to Al-Sisi. Consequently, Daesh views Egypt’s Copts as allies and supporters of the current regime, which has made no effort to keep its friendships with Western powers a secret. Al-Sisi’s friends in the West support him as a staunch ally in the war against terror, yet these friendships are part of the reason Egypt is the target of such hate. Ironically, these latest attacks are further proof that the Egyptian president has little, if any, control over these groups.

Last Friday the church said the attacks in Arish were “acts of terrorism…exported to Egypt from abroad”, a response many agreed was weak given the gravity of the killing spree in Arish and the fear it has instilled in the Christian community there.

The church’s response, or lack of it, is nothing new – many will remember its indifference to the Maspero massacre back in 2011. Eight months after Mubarak stood down 28 Egyptian civilians were crushed under army tanks outside the Maspero state television building where mainly Christians, and some Muslims, had gathered to protest against the destruction of a church in Upper Egypt and the authorities’ failure to act.

In an interview three years later Pope Tawadros said he did not know who was responsible and that “we are seeking the truth but at a suitable time”. His failure to take the massacre seriously was a huge dishonour to those who lost their lives.

The attacks in Arish have also put the spotlight on how the government deal with such attacks. A statement released by Interior Minister Magdy Abdel-Ghaffar said: “Security forces have not asked any citizens living in North Sinai to leave their homes for other governorates… security personnel and the Armed Forces are carrying out their national role by combating terrorism and its remnants, providing security to the citizens of all governorates and their homes.”

Despite declarations such as this, human rights activists say that in actual fact authorities are failing to provide adequate security for the country’s Christians. Instead, authorities have implemented oppressive security measures off the back of these attacks – which have entrenched the rule of the police and the military – including house raids, a state of emergency, prohibiting residents from leaving their homes, setting up road blocks and implementing curfews.

In 2014 the military displaced up to 10,000 people along the border with Gaza when they razed hundreds of houses in what was pitched as an effort to stop militants and weapons moving through the tunnels from the Strip into Egypt.

Successive governments in Egypt have been criticised for doing little about discrimination against Copts, like the strict controls that are placed on building churches and the fact that they do not have access to high-level positions in the country. When Al-Sisi seized power in 2013 he promised to reverse this and start by restoring churches that had been burnt down in hate attacks; but the attacks have not stopped, and the churches have not been rebuilt. Authorities simply reiterate their commitment to fighting terrorism as sectarian violence in the country continues to rise.

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

Categories
AfricaArticleEgyptOpinion
Show Comments
Show Comments