Problems on hold
Friday 26 May saw Copts in Egypt fall victim to yet another gruesome terrorist attack. This time it struck busloads of Coptic children, families, and labourers on their way to the desert monastery of Anba Samueel al-Muetarrif (St Samuel the Confessor) northwest Minya. They converged on the monastery from Beni Sweif, 100km south of Cairo; and Minya, 250km south of Cairo, pilgrims to a holy site, looking forward to spend a day of spirituality, peace and joy. But Daesh-affiliated terrorists struck them while on the final leg of their journey, the unpaved desert path leading up to the monastery. Some 28 were shot dead, among them 10 children, and 25 others were injured.
It was not the first attack in recent months. The bombing at al-Boutrossiya church in Cairo on 11 December 2016 during Sunday Mass, and the twin bombings at the Tanta church of Mar-Girgis (St George) and the Alexandria St Mark’s cathedral on Palm Sunday, 9 April 2017, altogether claimed some 70 lives of Coptic churchgoers and three Muslim guards.
The sad scene is recurrent. The obvious purpose behind targeting Copts is to sour relations between Egypt’s Copts and Muslims and undermine their legendary unity. Given that the Islamist terrorists who today target Copts had before miserably failed to drive a wedge between Egyptians and their army and police, I can safely say they will again fail to undermine the time-honoured unity between Copts and Muslims in Egypt. This is a fact I am keen to stress in the wake of every evil terrorist attack against Copts.
Copts have forever been peaceful, forgiving, and tolerant. They never returned violence for violence or loathing for loathing, but have always been armed by nothing other than their faith, love and prayer. This is why it is excruciatingly painful for them to fall victim to such horrifying hate crimes in the name of Islam. And this is why the rush by our fellow-Egyptian Muslims to share our grief and offer sincere condolence is especially comforting. It also confirms that moderate Muslims are innocent of the crimes committed by extremist-minded terrorists.
It did not take Egypt 24 hours to avenge the Daesh-claimed death of the Copts heading to St Samuels’. The Egyptian Air Force struck the strongholds of Daesh in Derna and Jafra, Libya, where the terrorists who hit the Copts had trained.
According to military reports, this is the third time Egypt strikes terrorist camps in Libya. Some two years ago, following the beheading of 21 Christians, among them 20 Egyptians, on Libyan shores by Daesh, Egypt directed an air strike against terrorist strongholds there. In doing so it avenged the loved ones we had lost, defended our faith, and redeemed our State dignity and authority.
In his address to the nation following the attack, President Sisi spoke firmly and strongly. He announced the news that Egyptian Armed Forces had struck six terrorist training camps in Libya. He said Egypt would not hesitate to strike terrorist strongholds and camps inside or outside Egypt, and that the State will adamantly chase terrorists inside the country.
I heard the President’s speech as I held the proofs of last Sunday’s issue of Watani, preparing to go to press. In my hand was a proof of page 6 which carried a story on the suffering of Minya Copts at the hands of local extremist Muslims. The headline read “In Samalout [in Minya] norms hold sway over the law…extremists over the nation.” I caught myself mentally screaming: does not the hatred, extremism, threats, and violence against Copts, and the flagrant usurpation of their religious rights under the eyes and nose of State authorities qualify as terrorism? And is it not eligible for the President’s pledge to ‘pursue terrorist elements inside the nation’?
I present to President Sisi the incidents printed on Watani’s page 6 on 28 May 2017:
• In the village of al-Koum al-Ahmar in Samalout, Minya, the Apostolic church acquired official permits to demolish, reconstruct and renovate its dilapidated three-storey church. In an attempt to secure peace, the pastor familiarised the village Muslims with the matter beforehand. This, however, did not stop Islamic unrest as soon as the construction work started; the police had to intervene to contain the situation. But instead of enforcing the law and deterring the extremists, the local authorities organised a customary ‘conciliation’ session between the Copts and Muslims. The Muslim extremists dictated their conditions as the local officials looked on. They ‘allowed’ only a one-storey church that would hold no Christian symbols. The pastor says the Copts had no option but to bow to the conditions of the extremists, since the local authorities had stood powerless to enforce the law.
• It has been a year now since Muslim extremists in the village of Koum al-Loufi in Samalout denied Copts the right to build a church, under the pretext that they desired no church in their village. Local security officials promised the Bishop of Samalout they would allow the village Copts to pray in a Church-owned building that had been closed for five years, yet this pledge vanished into thin air since the authorities failed to persuade Koum al-Loufi Muslims to allow the Copts to worship in their village. The crisis escalated, and Copts sent out calls for help to the presidency. Last April the Copts were given permission to hold Holy Thursday prayers in a building owned by one of them. Even though the police provided protection while they prayed, the Copts were attacked by the village Muslims as they headed home after prayers. Violence erupted, and it was futile for the Copts to continue worship on Good Friday or Easter. Finally the local officials were able to persuade the village Muslims that the Copts should be allowed to build a church; the extremists’ conditions were that it should be outside the village and should carry no cross, dome or tower. The Copts refused, the situation remains as is, and the extremists are boasting they have imposed their own rule. So much for the State of law.
• In the Samalout village of Dabbous, Muslim extremists refused that the Copts should hold prayers in a building owned by the bishopric. Looking for the easy way out to enforce peace, and in total disregard of the Copts’ rights, the police closed down the building and banned worship there. The village’s 2000 Copts are forced to travel to the nearest village to pray.
These are but three incidents of the stories printed in last week’s issue of Watani. The common line that runs through them is that most occur in Minya, the law and State authority are trespassed against by Muslim extremists, and that State officials fail to enforce the law. Is not this terrorism par excellence? Does not it call for the State to rise and pursue the terrorists as President Sisi promised?
4 June 2017