As we followed the aftermath of the heinous bomb attack against the St George Church in the central Delta city of Tanta, we grieved for the victims and their families, our fellow citizens who had been attending services in that church at one of the holiest times of the year: Palm Sunday, which marks the beginning of the Holy Week and commemorates Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Normally, it is a joyous occasion. Crowds— Christians and Muslims alike — gather in front of churches and smile as they watch people weaving palm leaves and plaiting palm fronds.
That morning, a bomb struck the church in Tanta and shortly afterwards another bomb attack hit St Mark’s Church in Alexandria. The attacks came only a few months after the horrific bombing of the St Peter and St Paul Church in Downtown Cairo. The three attacks, like the bombing of the Two Saints Church in Alexandria in 2010, occurred shortly before the most important holidays in the Christian calendar. One also notes that last week’s attacks came shortly after President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s return from the US. Clearly, apart from the usual terrorist aims of sowing hatred and strife, the bombings were intended to ruin the spirit of hope and optimism that infused public opinion following that successful visit to Washington.
Venomous, hate-filled minds are behind these insidious crimes. The plotters, abettors and perpetrators cannot possibly be Egyptian, at least not in the true sense of the word, although one must recall there are also many non-Egyptian terrorists who have infiltrated the country. By targeting churches, they seek to terrorise all Egyptians, to make innocent people cower and to sap society’s collective efforts to attain development and progress. The architects of these crimes also imagine that they can drive a wedge between the people of this nation and destroy Egyptian national unity. In the process, they want to convey a message to world opinion that Egypt is “unstable” and “dangerous” in order to undermine the investment and tourism climates and, more immediately, to induce the Catholic pope to cancel his anticipated forthcoming visit.
Terrorism creeps stealthy from one place to another. No country is completely safe. Its despicable crimes with their malignant ends, meant to serve the enemies of countries, peoples and indeed life itself, can strike anywhere. Events in London, Paris, Dortmund, Munich and St Petersburg, as well as in every Arab country, testify to this.
In addition to emotional reactions in the aftermath of the recent church bombings, we also observed the interviews and remarks by various parties, including President Al-Sisi’s speech in which he announced a number of practical measures in order to address the situation terrorist crimes have forced upon us. Now, several dismal days later, we would like to register the following observations:
Firstly, the idea behind linking “punishment” to “crime” is that the former must serve as a deterrent that will reduce the frequency of the latter. Therefore, when it comes to the types of crimes we have just seen, it is not sufficient merely to enhance the punishment, but also the punishment must be swift and firm. Law school students will learn in any introductory course to law that punishment “is an organised profane impediment” to crime and herein resides the importance of the proportionality of the punishment to the crime. A man found guilty of raping a woman could face a death sentence. What about persons who try to rape an entire nation, destroy its unity and massacre innocent people? History confirms that terrorism and its crimes only receded in the face of deterrent punishments, forceful enough to deliver a clear message to the criminal plotters that the arm of justice will reach them in their lairs and that society will exact its revenge regardless of their vile and surreptitious methods and their ability to strike by surprise.
Secondly, we must underscore, again and again, the need to fight the pestilence of extremist religious thought in our country. It has spread in spite of the huge efforts to counter the religio-fascist trend and to respond to enlightened appeals to renovate religious discourse. We therefore urge a more intensive drive to repel the bigoted and intolerant ideologies of the jihadist and takfiri Salafi groups and to rescue Islam from the claws of those who seek to mar and harm it. Towards this end, it is crucial to sift all fragments of such thinking from educational curricula and pedagogic approaches.
How depressing it was, following the recent incident of the rape of a 20-month-old baby girl, to come across an article in which the writer cited some ancient piece of jurisprudence regarding infant marriage. We are inviting the mockery of the world and turning humanitarian forces against the faith of mercy and tolerance, the faith that made thinking — exercising one’s intellect — a religious duty. There are religious pundits who are totally remote from the true spirit and substance of Islam. There are tales implanted by later historians in their accounts of the early Muslims. Some of these feed the hatred and malice harboured in some hearts against our brothers and sisters whom the Quran refers to as the “People of the Book”. There needs to be a thorough examination and revision of all sources that have given rise to narratives and fictions that foster hatred and incitement and that reduce God’s faith to an instrument for violence, sexual repression, sectarian fanaticism and fascist thought and behaviour.
Thirdly, the steadfastness of Egypt’s Copts merits praise and respect. They and our national church realise the ramifications of the crime and the conspiratorial motives behind it. Their courage and resoluteness is informed by the awareness that they are a precious part of the Egyptian nation, which stands proud of its long tradition of social assimilation, human fusion and national unity.
Fourthly, Qatar and Israel are the only two countries in our tumultuous region that have not been struck by Islamic State terrorism. Governments and security agencies in this region and the world are aware of the many reasons for this, but their silence will continue to prevail for one reason or another.
Long live the memories in our hearts of the martyrs of Egypt, both Copts and Muslims. Long live the Coptic Pope Tawadros II, patriarch of the See of St Mark, who is endowed with the perspicacity, wisdom and patriotic and moral fortitude that enable him to understand perfectly well what is happening. A tribute is also due to the Egyptian citizen, the ordinary man or woman in the street who bears so much of the brunt of the cumulative problems in the world today, the succession of crises and the repercussions of heinous crimes. The blood will dry on the green palm fronds. It will blossom into flowers, wreaths and garlands with which we will crown the graves of the martyrs.