In the aftermath of the New Year bombing at the Church of the
Saints in Alexandria
16 January 2011
Egypt’s consultative house, the Shura Council, held two sessions last week to discuss the New Year Alexandria terrorist attack. Members from all political parties condemned the criminal act and called for the whole country to marshal against such attacks, stressing the values of citizenship and national unity.
Shura Council speaker Safwat al-Sherif argued that the act had more to do with terrorism than sectarianism. “It is an organised crime in the full sense of the word that targets Egypt’s security and stability,” he said. “The culprits are agents who betrayed their conscience. The Egyptian people will stick to national unity and stand up to terrorism. We should be proud of young Egyptians, Christians and Muslims alike, who raised signs showing the Cross and Crescent.” Political parties should spread the culture of citizenship, he added, and Muslim and Christian clerics should adopt a sober discourse.
The minister of legal affairs and the parliamentary council, Moufid Shehab, said that the criminals who stood behind this terrorist attack must not escape justice. He also maintained that the attack was clearly engineered by foreign elements, but conceded that it took place under a religiously-strained climate. “The attack sought to drive a wedge between Muslims and Christians, and the fact that a police officer and three policemen were injured proved that the Interior Ministry was keen to tighten security measures around churches. A suicide bomber was behind the attack and the explosive device was locally produced.” Dr Shehab criticised the angry demonstrations staged by what he dubbed the “Christian sect” right after the bombing took place. He alleged that when some young Copts broke into the mosque adjacent to the Church of the Saints, Muslim youths retaliated and attacked properties owned by “the sect’s sons”.
Shehab criticised calls by Rifaat al-Said, chairman of the left-wing Tagammu Party, to pass the unified law for building places of worship as soon as possible. He said that the attack had nothing to do with the law, and added that serious studies should be carried out before such a law was passed. “A presidential decree will be issued to organise the building of places of worship through coordination with the Church and the National Council for Human Rights,” he said. “The absence of a unified law for building places of worship is not a factor behind the tension. The State’s strategy, programmes and Constitution treat Egyptians on an equal footing.” Furthermore, Shehab claimed, “Nothing to prove discrimination exists.” President Mubarak had never rejected an application for building a church, he added.
However, Dr Said said that leaflets had been distributed in the town of Minya warning Muslims not to celebrate Coptic feasts because Copts were apostates. “The security forces did not arrest the people distributing the leaflets,” he said. “Over the past 25 years, Coptic anger has snowballed. When the events took place at Khanka in 1972, a report was made by a parliamentary committee but not a single recommendation made in the report was carried out. In 1981 the Shura Council formed a committee headed by Dr Moufid Shehab to write a report on sectarian tension, but the report’s recommendations were not put into effect. Although constitutional articles ban attacks on churches, as well as the defamation of religions, those articles were not activated.” He added that a unified law for building places of worship and a law banning discrimination should be issued.
Nagy Shehab of the Geel Party said the demands made by the Copts formed part of the United States agenda, while Takaful Party representative Osama Shaltout called for an end to injustices suffered by Copts. “The compensation offered to each martyr’s family should be raised to EGP1 million, similar to the sum a football player is paid,” he suggested.
There was considerable disagreement among members of the house. Mohamed Abdel-Alim suggested that a fatwa (religious edict) be issued to prohibit the spilling of Coptic blood, while Wagdy Louis called for reforming school curricula and reconsidering the current religious discourse. However, Nabil Louqa Bebawy voiced his opposition to the latest calls by Pope Benedict XVI to protect Christians in Egypt. Mohamed Ali Ibrahim stressed the need to acquaint students with the values of tolerance promoted by different religions, and Abdullah Kamal called for a law to punish anyone who incited hatred between followers of different religions.
Mohamed al-Ghamrawi expressed his surprise at the demonstrations held by young Copts, saying that such a thing had never happened before in Egypt. Church building was also called into question, with Adel Rashed, manager of the general department in the Ministry of Interior, denying there was a need for a unified law for building places of worship. According to him, over the past five years presidential decrees were issued for 150 churches. For his part Dr Shehab said that the number of churches built in Egypt throughout the last 30 years exceeded those built in the country since Christianity entered Egypt in the first century. It would take a mathematical feat to figure that one out.