Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1143, 11 - 17 April 2013
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1143, 11 - 17 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

Cairo’s Copts attacked

As attacks on Egypt’s Copts continued this week, Israel has reportedly offered Coptic families political asylum

Al-Ahram Weekly

Problems of sectarian strife in Egypt reached a climax on Sunday, when the Coptic Cathedral in the Cairo district of Abbasiya was attacked by a group of assailants, writes Michael Adel.

 The attack targeted the funerals of five Coptic men killed during clashes in the village of Khosous in the Qalioubiya governorate just two days earlier during which a local church, nursery and several houses were also damaged.

The mourners had been protesting against the policies of President Mohamed Morsi before the start of the clashes, which lasted several hours and left two people dead and more than 80 injured. Assailants threw Molotov cocktails at the Cathedral, forcing mourners to take shelter inside the Cathedral complex, where they were showered with rocks thrown from the roofs of nearby buildings.

Instead of protecting the Cathedral, the security forces reportedly fired tear gas into the complex. Reacting to the Abbasiya events, Egypt’s churches expressed their “deep sorrow for the unprecedented attack on the Cathedral, which represents the symbol of Christianity in Egypt, the Arab world and the Middle East.”

Opposition parties accused the security apparatus of being involved in the events and called for the dismissal of Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim. The opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) youth movement also called for two marches to be held on Tuesday towards the Cathedral in a show of support for the Copts.

During a press conference on Monday at the Shura Council, the upper house of Egypt’s parliament, representatives of civil political forces together with Coptic and independent MPs called for the dismissal of the interior minister and the immediate reform of the ministry.

In a report presented to the prosecution-general following the events, the Interior Ministry said that hired thugs had caused the clashes in an attempt to halt the national reconciliation initiative launched by the grand imam of Al-Azhar in the wake of the events in Khosous.

On Monday, during a peaceful march organised by dozens of Muslims and Copts in Khosous to condemn the latest sectarian events, unknown assailants fired shots at the marchers, though fortunately no deaths or injuries were reported. Coptic Pope Tawadros II has asked Khosous Church officials to give him a detailed report on the incidents, including lists of the casualties and damage to Coptic homes.

Father Suryal Yunan, who officiates at the Mar Girgis Church in Khosous, said that a funeral service had been held for the victims in the village of Rashshah and that they would be buried in the Abu Zaabal cemetery.

He added that the situation in Khosous remained highly charged and further violence could not be ruled out. Local church officials accused the police of showing no interest in protecting Coptic life and property and demanded the deployment of the army to protect churches.

Khosous inhabitants have accused a local Muslim preacher, Mustafa Al-Agalati, of instigating the events by calling for attacks on Copts. Locals say that Al-Agalati’s son had taken part in recent sectarian clashes involving the disappearance of a woman called Abeer in Imbaba.

Al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayeb voiced alarm at the incidents in Khosous, saying that “it is a national and religious duty to protect our country from sectarian strife and attitudes.”

Father Girgis Awad, leader of the Shubra Anglican community in Cairo, urged the government to bring the culprits and those who propagate sectarian violence to justice. “It is time we admitted that we have a serious sectarian problem in this country and passed a law to criminalise sectarian violence and its instigators,” he said.

“Out-of-court reconciliation deals are no longer working. We need to end all attacks on houses of worship and ban assaults on the rights of others. We must rediscover tolerance in word and deed and across state institutions.”

Meanwhile, Pope Tawadros II is planning an official visit to the Vatican for talks with Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church. It will be the first such visit by a Coptic pope to the Vatican since Pope Shenouda III’s visit in 1973.

This week’s events also took place shortly after it was reported that Israel had offered what it called political asylum to Egyptian Copts. According to the Israeli press, 237 Coptic families have already moved to Israel.

A senior Coptic Church official told Al-Ahram Weekly that the reports were groundless. “Even if Israel opens its doors to us, we will not go. We are opposed to emigration to Israel on principle,” he said. Israel’s current laws allow Arabs to live in Israel only if they are married to Israelis, though citizenship is granted automatically to Jewish immigrants.

Speaking at a conference organised in the Coptic Cathedral, Emad Gad, deputy director of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, said that rumours of Coptic immigration to Israel were being spread by the Muslim Brotherhood, which was keen to equate Christians with Jews in public eyes.

Kamal Zakher, founder of the Front of Secular Copts, said that the rumours aimed to split the nation and pave the way for expelling Copts from their country.

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