THE hopes of Christians in Egypt that the military's removal of
the Muslim Brotherhood from power last July would bring security to
their community took a further blow last Sunday night.
At least four members of one extended family were killed,
including two girl cousins, when masked gunmen on motorbikes opened
fire on worshippers leaving a Coptic church, on the outskirts of
Cairo, after a wedding. At least 12 more people were injured. The
attackers, who have not been identified, seemed to fire
indiscriminately on the crowd. Part of the street had been closed
before the attack to prevent the gunmen's escape being blocked by
One of those who died was Mariam Ashraf Seha, aged eight. Her
mother was critically injured. Her father, Ashraf Masiha, said that
he heard gunfire, and then "found my wife and daughter on the
ground covered in blood. I used to take her to school every day.
Her smile will never leave me throughout my life."
The violence was widely condemned in Egypt. The interim Prime
Minister, Hazem el-Beblawi, said that the police were hunting those
who carried out this "callous and criminal act". He said that the
attack would "not succeed in sowing divisions between the nation's
Muslims and Christians".
The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University, one of Sunni Muslims'
most revered seats of learning, Sheikh Mohammed el-Tayeb, described
the shootings as "a criminal act that runs contrary to religion and
morals". A coalition of Islamist groups, including the Muslim
Brotherhood, also spoke out against the attack, saying that places
of worship were sacred.
One of the main complaints of Christians, today as much as in
past years, is that the security services fail both in protecting
the minority community and in pursuing those who perpetrate such
attacks. This has convinced thousands of Copts that they no longer
have a future in Egypt. Others call for more intense dialogue, both
with the government and influential Muslims.
But among the young, there is growing impatience at the failure
of all these tactics to stop the violence against Christians. One
prominent youth-group demanded the dismissal of the Interior
Minister. It said: "If the Egyptian government does not care about
the security and rights of Christians, then we must ask why we are
paying taxes, and why we are not arming ourselves."
Coping with the demands of increasingly angry young Copts is one
of the challenges that face the leader of the Coptic Orthodox
Church in Egypt, Pope Tawadros II. But equally challenging is the
task of providing spiritual and physical encouragement to a
community that feels itself to be in danger.
Some help to relieve that pressure is coming from a congregation
in Devon. St Andrew's, Plymouth,has raised about £1000 to help
Egyptian Copts, and is dispatching a city councillor, Dr David
Salter, to Egypt to deliver it. But Dr Salter, who is financing his
trip himself, told a newspaper in Plymouth, The Herald,
that the aim of his visits to Coptic communities across Egypt was
to demonstrate "fellow feeling rather than to take aid. A hand
reached out to them will remind them that a lot of people have
great respect for what Egypt has done."
An Egyptian Coptic priest in Plymouth, Fr Polykarpos el-
Samueily, praised the action of St Andrew's. He said that it was
thus far the "only church which has shown love to us. . . I hope
this will be the start, the example for every church to