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Egyptian Christians’ hopes set back by church shooting

25 October 2013


Censer: a Coptic priest burns incense during the funeral on Monday of Coptic Christians who were killed on Sunday in an attack outside a church

Censer: a Coptic priest burns incense during the funeral on Monday of Coptic Christians who were killed on Sunday in an attack outside a church

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 traffic.

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 follow."

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