Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1169, (24 - 30 October 2013)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1169, (24 - 30 October 2013)

Ahram Weekly

From wedding to funeral

This week’s terrorist attack on a Warraq church highlights the failure of security forces to protect Christian places of worship, reports Reem Leila

Al-Ahram Weekly

Hundreds took part in Monday’s funeral of four Christians gunned down outside the Virgin Mary Church in the Giza district of Warraq while attending a wedding ceremony. Two girls, eight and 12, were among those killed. The Ministry of Health announced the 20 October terrorist attack left 17 people injured.

Groups from across the political spectrum condemned the attack, with the Muslim Brotherhood issuing a statement claiming “the military-backed authorities continue to turn a blind eye to deliberate acts of arson, vandalism and murder.”

There were three weddings at the church the day of the attack, says church servant Aiyad Zakhari. The first two had ended when the attack took place. Guests attending the second wedding were leaving the church and those for the third assembling outside when the gunmen opened fire with automatic rifles before fleeing the scene on a motorbike.

“The first to die was the groom’s mother, 56-year-old Kamilia Helmi,” says Zakhari.

The assailants have not been arrested and no group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The victims include eight-year-old Miriam Ashraf who died in hospital after being hit by 10 bullets, Miriam Nabil, 12, and Samir Fahmi, 45.

Bishop Dawoud Ibrahim discounts the possibility that the attack was motivated by revenge. The gunfire was random, he says, targeting the crowd rather than individuals and clearly intended to kill as many Christians as possible.

“The church has not been guarded by the police or army since the burning down of the Warraq police station on 14 August,” said Ibrahim.

The general prosecution began its investigation by questioning injured victims and other eyewitnesses. Several checkpoints have been set in the area and the crime scene has been examined by senior members of the Giza Security Directorate.

“We will soon capture those who carried out the attack,” says Yasser Abdel-Latif, head of the Warraq prosecution.

More than 30 churches have been destroyed in recent sectarian attacks, in addition to 122 shops and 51 houses belonging to Christians, says a report published in September by the Egyptian Centre for Public Policy Studies, an independent NGO. A similar wave of attacks on churches occurred after the fall of former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, leaving dozens dead in sectarian violence.

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International has condemned Egypt’s security forces for their failure to protect Christians from violence or halt the destruction of their property following the violent 14 August dispersal of sit-ins in support of former president Mohamed Morsi which left hundreds dead.

“Unfortunately Christians find themselves caught between sectarian attacks and inaction by the concerned authorities,” says Emad Gad, a political analyst at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. “For decades Christians have borne the brunt of sectarian violence. Inaction on the part of the authorities must change. We are all equal before the law. We are Egyptian citizens as well as Muslims. Why this turning of a blind eye when it comes to assaults against Christians or their properties?”

Paying compensation to the victims of sectarian attacks and rebuilding places of worship that have been destroyed is not enough, says Gad. “Christians must be protected from being attacked or killed in the first place. This is their most basic right.”

Political and religious figures denounced the shooting at the Virgin Mary Church.

It was a “cowardly criminal act”, said interim Prime Minister Hazem Al-Beblawi.

In a statement issued on 21 October Al-Azhar Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb said the shooting was an “attack against all religion and morals” and expressed his condolences to victims’ families.

“The perpetrators seek to destablise the country and foment further sectarian clashes between people,” said Bishop Andrea Zaki, head of the Coptic Evangelical Organisation for Social Services.

He called for security around churches to be tightened. 

“It is essential to rapidly identify the perpetrators, arrest them and hold them accountable for their crimes. A speedy and fair investigation should be conducted to determine whether there was failure or negligence on the part of security forces,” said Zaki.

Political analyst Hassan Nafaa identifies the provocative rhetoric of supporters and members of the Muslim Brotherhood group who blame Christians for the ousting of Morsi as one of the reasons behind the growth in incidents of sectarian violence.

“Clashes between Muslims and Christians are a longstanding problem but never before have they been so pronounced. Sectarian clashes will continue, but this does not mean that it will affect Egypt’s unity. On the contrary, Egyptians — both Muslims and Christians — have always united in hard times.”

The government, argues Nafaa, must pursue political and social solutions to end the phenomenon of terrorism and “work towards creating a political and social climate capable of containing this phenomenon”.

Following the attack the Arab Programme for Human Rights Activists issued a report underlining that what happened at the Virgin Mary Church in Warraq represented a clear cut violation of the right to life guaranteed under the terms and provisions of the International Convention of Human Rights, particularly Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“Why have none of the culprits in previous, similar incidents been arrested?” asked the report. “And why are soldiers from central security forces stationed in front of churches if they are unable to protect them? Where were they during this latest terrorist attack?”

Additional reporting Michael Adel

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