The Church Under Fire in Egypt
Latest Church Attack Kills Five in Cairo
Todd Daniels, Regional Manager for the Middle East
International Christian Concern
The terrorist attack on a wedding service at a church in the Al-Warrak suburb of Cairo on Sunday, Oct. 20, is the latest evidence of the seriousness of the situation in Egypt. Violence against Egypt's minority Christian community has shown no sign of abating following the dramatic increase in tensions since the ouster of former Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi. In the aftermath of the Al-Warrak attack there has been a distinct shift in tone, however, as many in the country are coming to see these attacks, and the Islamist agenda, as dangerous for Egyptian society as a whole.
Attacks on Christians are Aiming to Destroy Egypt
Sunday evening, the Church of Saint Mary and St. Michael was the site of huge celebration. Inside the church, a wedding that had started at 8 p.m. was about to conclude. Outside, friends and family of bridegroom, Ramzy Khalifa, and his fiancée, Catherine, were gathering for their wedding ceremony at 9 p.m to begin.
It was 8:45 p.m. when the attack happened, Ayad Zakhary, a servant in the church, told ICC. "Two armed masked Muslim terrorists riding motorcycles and carrying automatic weapons opened fire randomly on the people who were in the front of the Church," Zakhary recounted.
The attack on the church killed four Christians that night, including the mother of the bridegroom, Camellia Helmy Attia. Two young girls, Mariam Nabil Fahmy and Mariam Ashraf Masiha, and 46 year old Samir Fahmy Azar were also killed. At least 18 others were wounded in the attack and taken to the hospital. Mohamed Ibrahim Ali Mahmoud, 17 years old, died in the hospital on Thursday
Zakhary recognized that the casualties could have been much worse. The time of the attack was just before the finishing of the wedding ceremony. "Many guests were still in the church and the wedding prayer hadn't finished yet," Zakhary told ICC. Only a few guests who left the church were outside with those waiting for the next wedding to begin. He said that if the attack were at 9 p.m. exactly, the victims would have been increased.
Father Dawood Ibrahim, head priest of the church, told ICC about the impact the attack has had on the community. "All of us are surprised about what happened," said Fr. Ibrahim. "We felt the insult, indignity, and sadness. It was like a shock for us. It was terrible, the wedding converted to sorrow. All the people, Muslims and Christians, in Al-Warrak are very sad about what happened last Sunday. [The terrorists] aim is to destroy Egypt."
Lack of Security for Egypt's Christians
Since the removal of Mohammed Morsi in early July, Egypt's Christians have come under devastating attacks. As ICC previously reported, the violence is at a level unseen for centuries. Most of the attacks have occurred outside of the Egyptian capitol, though there have been some attacks in Cairo as well.
Fr. Ibrahim explained to ICC that the attack on his church highlights the lack of security for Christians. "They choose our Church because they made sure that there are no police protecting the church, and they carried out their plan easily," he told ICC.
Authorities have begun investigating the security forces who were supposed to be responsible for providing protection in the area of Al-Warrak. Ahram reports, "The investigation has revealed that security forces stopped protecting the church in mid-August due to a lack of weapons."
As attacks have repeatedly happened with seeming impunity, some have begun to voice complaints that "the state deliberately fails to fulfill its role towards the protection of the property and the churches of Copts," coming from a statement by the Revolutionary Socialists movement on Tuesday.
Search for Unity, Not Division
This latest attack on a church in Cairo seems to have struck closer to home for political leaders in Egypt, and may be a catalyst to finding some real solutions to bring an end to the violence.
According to MidEast Christian News, the Prime Minister himself, Dr. Hazem el-Beblawi, visited the victims in the hospital, many of whom are in critical care. "Such heinous acts will not succeed in driving a wedge between the Christian and Muslim nation's fabric, and the government is watching carefully the miserable and desperate attempts to sow seeds of discord among the nation's children," Beblawi added in the statement.
Fr. Ibrahim has been encouraged by the support the church has received. "All the community has stood beside us after this attack and all the Egyptian people condemn this bad terrorist attack on the church," he told ICC.
The church is calling for increased security for churches. "The attacks on the Christians have been increased after the removal of Morsi," Ibrahim told ICC.
While increased security is the first step, it cannot be the only step taken if there is to be an actual decrease in the violence. Ziad Akl, writing for Daily News Egypt, said "The attack on the Church [Sunday] presents us with two facts: first, the terrorism threat Egypt is facing is certainly progressing very rapidly and second, the strategies put forth to counter this threat are clearly not effective." Akl continued, "So far, the strategies used to counter terrorism are solely security-based. The political, economic, religious and cultural aspects of countering terrorism remain out of strategic focus until today."
The international community has a role to play in assisting Egypt in finding strategies that do work. Leaders around the world have condemned the attacks and are calling for the Egyptian government to find a way to protect its citizens. Canadian Ambassador for Religious Freedom, Andrew Bennett, said, "The attacks against the worship places in Egypt are unacceptable," in a statement released on Tuesday.
A group of U.S. Senators, including Bob Corker (R-TN) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), have also issued a call for greater protections for Christians and urged Secretary of State John Kerry to provide a "clear response from the U.S." This incident highlights the importance of the now vacant office of Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom and the proposed Special Envoy for Religious Freedom, in working to address issues of violence against religious minorities.
For interviews, contact Todd Daniels, Regional Manager for the Middle East: RM-ME@persecution.org
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