The attack on al-Qidiseen Church in Alexandria

According to the most recent press reports a suicide bomber exploded his device outside al-Qidiseen (St. Mark & St. Peter the Seal of Martyrs)  Coptic Orthodox Church in Sidi Beshr, in  Alexandria as worshippers were leaving Mass, left at least 21 worshippers dead and 43 people wounded.

Commenting on these events, Abba Seraphim said, “Once again we have woken up to a new civil year with news of a horrifying and brutal attack on Coptic Orthodox Christians. Through the timing of this attack we are reminded that as the world celebrated a new millennium on the night of 31 December 1999, the Christians of El-Kosheh suffered the nightmare of a sectarian mob on the rampage, security forces which failed to intervene and inhuman and degrading treatment leaving many dead and wounded.

It is a matter of deep sadness that the intervening years have not seen any significant improvement in the lot of Coptic Christians but have instead been marked by sporadic and increasingly frequent outbursts of violence in which Christians have been clearly targetted. Those who perpetuate such crimes are heartless and cruel and act against the tenets of their religion which enjoins all who believe in the one God to develop peace in their relations with others. On the contrary, those who commit such wickedness follow in the footsteps of Satan.

Because of the universal celebration of the new millennium, the atrocities in El-Kosheh just over a decade ago, took some time to attract the attention of the international media, whereas, last night’s events hit the headlines throughout the world. Perhaps the world has finally become aware of the seriousness of the situation in Egypt.

Despite professed assurances of security for all its citizens, the Egyptian government is failing to provide the protection which is its fundamental responsibility. Last year, worshippeers at Nag Hamadi were attacked and killed as they left church after the Christmas Eve Mass (6/7 January) and extremist groups have vociferously threatened further violence against Copts both in Egypt and abroad. Are we to wait powerlessly for them to consummate their threats or may we expect a serious mobilisation of the state’s security services to prevent history repeating itself ?

What is encouraging, however, is to see that the Egyptian government has on this occasion responded swiftly and decisively to the incident in Alexandria by voicing strong condemnation and practical support. President Hosni Mubarak vowed to track down those behind the fatal bomb attack: “This terrorist act has shaken the conscience of the nation …. All of Egypt was targeted, and blind terrorism does not distinguish between Copt and Muslim.” The Ministry of Health and the Governorate of Alexandria provided rapid assistance for those wounded in the bombing by flying them to specialist hospitals in Cairo and reports spoke of Muslims donating blood. The Minister of Social Solidarity announced an exceptional decision to offer urgent financial assistance to the victims and their families: £5,000 to the family of each of those killed and £1,000 for each person injured.

The terrorist group, Jama’at al-Jihad al-Islami also known as the Community of Holy Warriors, a terrorist organisation  affiliated with al-Qaeda,  is believed to be responsible for the incident. It is clearly in their interest to foment sectarian strife in Egypt as the government of President Mubarak has no sympathy with such groups. The Dean of Al-Azhar University spoke of his pain and grief at “this criminal incident” which tried to undermine national unity. His Holiness Pope Shenouda echoed this theme, saying it was “aimed at destabilising the country’s stability and security” and that such criminals are “the enemies of Christians and Muslims alike and they do not want good for this country, and seek to foment sedition inside.”

The Coptic Church has always supported appeals to national unity and H.H. Pope Shenouda said it was too early to indict any of the powers, preferring to leave this matter to the investigating authorities. If the Egyptian government can utilise these common feelings of outrage whilst at the same time more publicly redressing some of the imbalance which has led to just grievances from the Coptic community, the cause of national unity will be strengthened. Whilst no-one accuses the government of complicity in such attacks, injustices unresolved may be exploited by extremists, whose failure to achieve success in the recent elections does not mean they have gone away. Until it demonstrates a willingness to address the deeper concerns of the Coptic community in both a committed and effective way, Egypt’s government will be seen to be neglecting its primary duty of ensuring the security and welfare of all its citizens. We must pray that out of these terrible events some lasting good may yet come.”