“Divine Justice will have its say, at the right time,” Pope Tawadros II tweeted on Monday, one day following the horrendous attacks against the Copts at St Mark’s cathedral in Abassiya, Cairo, and in the district Khusous in northeast Cairo
“Divine Justice will have its say, at the right time,” Pope Tawadros II tweeted on Monday, one day following the horrendous attacks against the Copts at St Mark’s cathedral in Abassiya, Cairo, and in the district Khusous in northeast Cairo. The Pope offered his condolences to all the families who lost loved ones in the events, stressing that we have faith that they do not die but go on to live forever. “We are waiting for the results of the official investigations to disclose what really went on,” his tweet went.
Pope Tawadros’s tweets came one day following the gunfire and Molotov attack against the Copts who were leaving St Mark’s on Sunday afternoon following the funeral of four men killed in Khusous during an assault against the Copts in the district at the hand of Islamists. The reason for the Khusous violence is not clear; different stories attribute it to petty reasons such as an argument between a Coptic family and its Salafi neighbours, or an allegation that children—security sources say that they were Muslim, while rumours say they were Coptic—who drew swastika graffiti on a local mosque walls. The outcome, however, was that the Islamists, through mosque microphones, urged the Muslims in the district to purge it of “the unclean Christians”. Thus started a rampage in which the local church of Mar-Girgis (St George) was attacked, three Coptic homes and a number of Coptic-owned shops and cars were looted and set on fire. Four Copts lost their lives, all four killed with gunshot.
The funeral for the four who died was held at St Mark’s on Sunday. As the Copts left the church following the funeral, they were attacked by unknown persons—eyewitnesses claim they were Islamists. The security forces did nothing to defend the Copts or stop the attack, and the unarmed Copts had to go into the cathedral grounds and lock the gates for protection. But this did not prevent their attackers from throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at them, and several assailants climbed the roof of a gas station adjacent to the cathedral and nearby rooftops to shoot at the Copts inside. Two Copts died, and 89 were injured. The security forces fired tear gas canisters into the cathedral grounds where the Copts had gathered; this led the Copts to take all the women and children into the church building, and burn car tyres in order for their smoke to neutralize the tear gas. The attack went on for some six hours.
Where is the Pope?
The Pope was nowhere to be seen or heard, which goes contrary to his character of being right on the spot of events, and which had the Copts deeply worried.
News had circulated the day before that he had asked for the funeral of the Khusous victims to be postponed from Saturday afternoon to Sunday in order for him to preside over the service. He did not do that and Anba Raphail, head of the Coptic Orthodox Holy Synod, presided instead. The Pope was said to be in Alexandria which he then left to the monastery of Anba Bishoi in the Western Desert. In the meantime, a statement by the Church that the Pope was following the events closely and was in touch with the Interior Minister was signed by Anba Moussa, Bishop of Youth. Other declarations on the part of the Church came through Anba Raphail or Father Angaelus, secretary to the Pope.
Fr Angaelus said the Pope would be at St Mark’s on Wednesday for his weekly prayer meeting and sermon, and would accept condolences for the Coptic dead on Thursday morning.
Monday evening, the Pope gave an interview over the phone to the independent OnTV Channel. He said that President Mursi had been with him on the phone and offered his condolences for the death of the six Copts. The President, Pope Tawadros said, promised protection for the Copts and the cathedral, “but we find no such thing on the ground.”
“Courteous rhetoric on the part of those in authority is not enough,” the Pope said. “The Copts need to see this translate into real action. The attacks against them in Khusous and at St Mark’s has reached the point of an unalloyed assault while the State looked on; this is very painful for the Copts. Egypt’s image in front of the world ‘is in the dust’ [meaning deplorable].
“The rights of the victims,” he insisted, “are in the hands of the State and the community.” He reminded viewers that the Coptic Church is an old all-Egyptian institution that has been there for some 2000 years.
The Presidency and the Church
Today, a statement signed by Fr Angaelus announced that: “In light of the sad and painful events, and in mourning for the souls of our children who lost their lives in Khusous and at the Cathedral, his Holiness Pope Tawadros II has decided to cancel the Wednesday 10 April 2013 meeting with the congregation. His Holiness also decided to postpone receiving condolences, which was scheduled for Thursday 11 April 2013, to a later date which will be determined in time”.
The statement conveyed the Pope’s call to the congregation to pray for the safety of the homeland and its religious institutions.
The afternoon saw a meeting between Church leaders and representatives of the presidency at St Mark’s, to discuss the ‘Cathedral incident’. Representing the Church were Anba Moussa, Bishop-General Anba Ermiya, and the Pope’s secretaries Fr Seraphim al-Suryani and Fr Angaelus, as well as Fr Sergius Sergius, the Patriarchal Deputy in Alexandria. Also present on the Coptic side were the businessman Hany Aziz and the politician Marianne Malak who is a member of the National Council for Human Rights. Representing the presidency were the President’s aides Pakinam al-Sharqawi and Emad Abdel-Ghaffour, and the spokesman for the presidency Ayman Ali.
Once the meeting concluded, the presidency representatives refused to comment on what went on in the meeting, and asked the Church representatives not to hold any press conference and or give comments on the meeting to the media.
When pressed by the reporters, however, Fr Sergius, said the Church demanded the enforcement of the law and that the culprits should be brought to justice. To further pressure by the reporters he merely said: “Pray. Keep praying.”
The Laity Council; and the Parliament
The Coptic Orthodox Church’s Melli (laity) Council convened and issued a strong-worded statement in which it condemned the repeated attacks against the Copts in the wake of which no culprit was ever caught or brought to justice, the systematic charging of public sentiment against them, and the inaction of the authorities before all that. The Council placed the responsibility for the violence against the Copts squarely on the shoulders of the President and the government. It declared it would resort to all legitimate, legal means to regain the rights of the Copts in their capacity as Egyptian citizens, and would remain in constant session to follow on the events. Finally, the statement declared the Council’s full support of Pope Tawadros II.
Earlier in the afternoon, the Shura Council—the upper house of Egypt’s parliament—held a session to discuss the Khusous/Cathedral events. Heated debate arose between the Islamist MPs who insisted on blaming the events on the Copts whom they branded as ‘extremists’, and the Coptic MPs who rejected such allegations and said they were being introduced to direct the blame away from the real culprits. The Coptic MPs walked out in protest, and the Shura Counil Speaker decided to refer the entire matter to the Committee for Arab and Foreign Affairs and National Security.
A report issued from the desk of Essam al-Haddad, foreign policy aide to the President, alleged that the Coptic mourners, once they had done with the funeral, attacked the passersby in the streets and damaged their cars, which brought on a counterattack by the locals. The report incensed the Copts who saw it as a flagrant falsification of the facts.
The attacks against the Copts had brought on condemnations left and right.
A march organised by the various secular movements in Egypt started today at 6:00pm at al-Fath mosque and headed to St Mark’s. The marchers are holding banners that decry attempts to polarise Egypt along religious lines, and that condemn the assault of Copts. “Copts and Muslims are together one hand”, they said. They demanded the downfall of the regime.
Condemnations were unanimous in that the attack against the headquarters of the Coptic Church was a disgraceful act, unprecedented in Egypt’s history, and should never go unaccounted for. They blamed the President and the Interior Ministry for it, and warned that it stood to threaten Egypt in its entirety. The blame came from the Council of Egypt’s Churches, the Catholic and Evangelical Churches in Egypt, Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination, rights activists, and secular political movements all over Egypt. In Alexandria and in Minya, Upper Egypt, candlelight vigils were held in black mourning clothes to honour the victims.
Mariam Rifaat, Nader Shukry, Michael Victor, Adel Mounir, Marguerite Adel
9 April 2013
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