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Anger erupts in Egypt after massacre of Christian pilgrims

Relatives and friends carry the coffins of brothers Nadi Yousef Shehata, right, and Reda Yousef Shehata after a funeral service at the Church of Great Martyr Prince Tadros, in Minya, Egypt, on Nov. 3, 2018. Coptic Christians in the Egyptian town of Minya prepared to bury their dead a day after militants ambushed three buses carrying Christian pilgrims on their way to a remote desert monastery. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

MINYA, Egypt (RNS) — The Coptic bishop of this city south of Cairo, Anba Makarios, spent the weekend trying to comfort mourners after two buses carrying Coptic Christians were ambushed Friday (Nov. 2) as they left a monastery here, killing seven of the pilgrims and wounding 19. The Islamic State in Egypt claimed responsibility for the attack.

But during Makarios’ appearance at Prince Tadros Church, as the bishop thanked provincial officials for issuing the necessary permits to conduct public funerals, the congregation erupted in anger.

“Don’t thank them,” shouted the mourners as elderly women leaned in grief over the coffins of the victims.

“With our souls and our blood, we will protect the cross,” they chanted as young men started fist-punching the air.

The attack in the desert this weekend was the second assault at the same location by the Egyptian branch of the Islamic State. A May 2017 ambush on the road to the monastery left 28 people dead. Now, Coptic Christians say they have had enough of promises.

“Government ministers talk about our common citizenship, a concept that is impossible to see when we are constantly subjected to violence,” said Kamel Hanna, a building contractor from Sohag. Hanna had come to stand vigil at Sheikh Zayed hospital in Cairo’s suburbs, where his niece and nephew, along with 11 others injured in the attack, were being treated. “This violence is a tax we pay just for being Christians.”

Coptic Christians chant slogans during a protest after an attack on a bus carrying Christian pilgrims on their way to a remote desert monastery, in Minya, Egypt, on Nov. 2, 2018.  (AP Photo/Mohammed Hakim)

Copts, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 100 million people, have seen increasing violence against their community since 2013, when the country’s first democratically elected president, the Islamist-backed Mohammed Morsi, was deposed by the army. The months after the coup saw multiple attacks on Christian churches.

In December 2017, a gunman killed 11 people in an attack on St. Menas Church in Helwan, near Cairo. That attack came just weeks after the Coptic community had marked the anniversary of a suicide bombing that killed 29 and injured 47 at St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church, part of the large cathedral complex that includes the Cairo residence of Pope Tawadros II.

Despite the rash of violence, Pope Tawadros and the Coptic community have been seen as a pillar of support for the coup leader and current President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

Fearful of Morsi’s Islamist tendencies, many Copts turned out in the popular unrest that led to his ouster. Priests in Coptic churches have since urged their congregations to turn out to vote for el-Sissi, characterizing both the leader and Egypt’s armed forces as their ultimate protector.

El-Sissi has shown favor for the Coptic churches in return. The president has allowed the construction of new churches and pushed for equal protection in employment and the exercise of religion, including a measure easing the way for Christians to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem just as Muslims take time off to make the hajj to Mecca.

Last Christmas el-Sissi attended a dedication ceremony at the massive Nativity of Christ cathedral built in the government’s new administrative capital, a $45 billion project rising in the desert sands 28 miles east of Cairo.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, right, shakes hands with Pope Tawadros II, the 118th pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and patriarch of the See of St. Mark Cathedral, to offer condolences for the victims of the terrorist incidents of the Palm Sunday bombings in Tanta and Alexandria, in the Abassiya Cathedral in Cairo, on April 13, 2017. Photo courtesy of The Egyptian Presidency/Handout via AP

But the regime is coming under increasing fire from the Coptic community for failing to stop Islamist terror and limiting access to the hospitals where the injured are being treated in Cairo and in Upper Egypt.

“Officials are preventing anyone from entering the hospital and reassuring the injured because the attacks show the serious flaws in their security system,” said Steven Rauf, a 20-year-old Coptic Christian medical student at Ain Shams University. He had come to see a high school friend, Youssef Nadi, who took two bullets in his head and shrapnel in his right hand, according to Rauf.

El-Sissi condemned the Minya attack Friday while attending a government-organized youth forum at the Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh. “The martyrs who fell today at the treacherous hands of those who seek to undermine our nation’s coherent fabric and I vow our continuing determination to fight terrorism,” he said. “This incident will not undermine the will of our nation to continue its battle for survival and construction.”

On Sunday afternoon, an Interior Ministry spokesman said security forces killed 19 suspects who were tracked to a desert hideout. The ministry also released photographs of corpses it said were the bodies of the armed assailants of the pilgrims.

But the attack Friday has ended the widespread blanket endorsement of the administration’s approach even among pro-government politicians. Many Coptic youth shared social media memes contrasting the grief of the Minya families with the smiles on the faces of el-Sissi and other Egyptian leaders at the forum.

Nadia Henry, a Coptic member of parliament representing metropolitan Cairo, believes continuing terrorism shows a need not only for better police training but also development of an education system dedicated to diversity.

A woman grieves for killed Coptic Christians during the funeral at the Church of Great Martyr Prince Tadros, in Minya, Egypt, on Nov. 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

“We need to face [Islamist] radical thought, not just through security measures but also deploying the culture, information, education and religious departments to fundamentally change attitudes,” Henry said. “Of course, there have been security lapses, but remember, there are terrorist attacks that also strike Muslims.”

Rank-and-file Copts are more explicitly critical.

“We have no presidencies defending us, only the Lord Almighty,” said Peter Basilious, a pharmacist in the Upper Egyptian city of Al-Kosheh.

“There is disregard of the blood of the Copts that is repeated because of our peaceful piety and the church’s non-escalation policy that looks only for justice in heaven.”

Even some Coptic clergy — normally reticent to express themselves politically — are questioning whether this year’s Christmas festivities should be held at Nativity of Christ cathedral, a site closely identified with a government that has failed to deliver security.

“It’s a show in the new capital,” said Matthias Nasr, a 59-year-old Cairo priest.

“We are slaves to a system — it’s in a polite way. But even most of the Christian media misleads the public to appease the regime.”

Nasr said the relationship between Egyptian Christians and the government continues the discriminatory practices of medieval Islam, even as it wears a modern secular mask.

“The message continues to be that in our conscience you are dhimmi,” he said, referring to the Arabic term for non-Muslims historically subjected to special protection taxes. “But in front of the Western world we will present you as equal citizens.”

Some Copts said they understood that the government was trying. Even so, it wasn’t enough.

“I do not want to hold the state responsible because terrorism is a global phenomenon and I do not want to accuse the Ministry of Interior of negligence,” said Maged Talaat, a 38-year-old financial services manager from the heavily Coptic Shubhra district in Cairo, attending the youth forum. “But I don’t want to blame the victims.”

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Mina Nader

36 Comments

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  • Muslims need to know and understand that every time zealots commit atrocities like this, the reputation of Islam is dragged through the mud. It demeans the religion in the eyes of non-Muslims, and encourages Muslims to abandon their faith.

    No wonder that organisations of ex Muslims are springing up in so many places:

    Australia http://www.ex-muslim.org.au
    Britain https://www.ex-muslim.org.uk
    North America https://exmuslims.org

    This Wikipedia article gives more information and links: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Council_of_Ex-Muslims

  • In all fairness, the source you quote states that the verse (Koran 4:34) that is used to justify wife beating can be interpreted in different ways. Let’s hope that the more peaceable interpretations will prevail.

  • And in fairness, a few extreme Christian fundamentalists have claimed the same biblical right. Unfortunately, a clear message is also not received that domestic violence is against Australian law. Muslims are also supposed to obey the laws of the country they reside in. Something more likely when the total population is apparently less than 700,000

  • Hmm, can you show me the scripture that condones beating your wife in Christianity?

    Massive spacious leap to suggest a textual equivalence.

  • There are 107 verses of hate in the quran. The wife beating verse is quite mild compared to the verses advocatiing Jew hating/stoning.

    If you read that article you would have encountered the valid argument that asks why imams from backward villages with no running water and no electricity (total isolation from development and associated developed notions of peace and ideas of rights within primitive squalor where the most brutal interpretations of islam thrive) are elevated to positions of authority within islam in Australia. They shouldn’t be allowed in Australia at all for they bring nothing of value.

    Plenty of space in the middle east for hate- we in the West don’t need to export quranic hate elsewhere.

  • Extremists who claim to be adherents to Islam strike again.

    Is this what you said about Catholism every time that the IRA bombed something and killed folks in the UK?

  • David, THEY ARE MUSLIMS.

    Their disorganized religion has imams aplenty who praise such violence as it is in keeping with the jihad’s that mohammed prescribed.

    You know, at least the current pope is purging the paedophiles within catholicism’s ranks but in islam itself, even purging paedophiles is problematic as mohammed took a 9 year old bride.

    Islam has a foundation of hatred, racism, misogyny and intolerance that only propagates more practitioners who choose the low path outlined in quran, hadith and sira.
    You David, you latch onto the few muslims who choose not to take the verses of hate literally and then you elevate all muslims from your viewing those few million who practice non-compliance with islamic dogma.

    The sad thing David is that you think you’re doing a great thing in defending islam’s quran but in reality, you’re spreading their plague.

  • Peaceful Muslims number in the hundreds of millions and they are spread over a dozen or so Islamic denominations. The faith is far less disorganized than Christianity and its hundreds of denominations. Except for the extremists, Muslim scholars state uniquivacably, that what you identify as passages of hate, refer to specific times and events in the early history of Islam, not to any other time period.

    I’m not doing anything great, I’m following the teachings of Jesus; loving God and loving my neighbor as myself.

    Mohamed actually married her at seven, he didn’t have relations with her until she was nine. Regarding who he was, she was likely more than willing and viewed it as a great honor. That was an era with concepts of marriage very different from today. You make anacronistic errors trying to impose today’s standards on a culture 1300 years ago.

    You are a conservative Later-day Saint whose bigoty would embarrass most of your fellow Saints. Also someone most folks in these forums don’t consider to be Christian and who point at attrocities in your religion’s history to disqualify you from having opinions that count among real Christans. You’re words are a noisy wind blowing through bare tree branches.

  • That can be said of followers of most all faiths. There are ex-member groups for more faiths/sects than can be identified.

  • You should focus on the unique scriptures of your LDS faith and leave Christianity to the rest of us.

  • “Peaceful Muslims number in the hundreds of millions…”

    I doubt it.
    They’re merely dormant.

    “I’m following the teachings of Jesus; loving God and loving my neighbor as myself.”

    Hmm, that’s interesting way to look at it- how about instead of ruining what we have, you go to pakistan and do the neighbor love thing there? I’m sure you will be greeted with loving arms- ak-aks to be precise.

    Sigh, and then you go on to praise mohammed for taking a 6 year old as a wife while in the past you’ve denigrated Joseph Smith for taking teenage brides. Yawn… you are truly are a true liberal hypocrite, a prisoner of your own hubris.

    Now, go and make some excuses for the 78 killed in the name of islam last week.

  • Hmm, ex-mormons can’t cite repulsion at murders committed in the name of the faith like muslims can.

    Yet again, another false equivalence from David.

  • “…and leave Christianity to the rest of us.”

    ehum, David, if we entrust the world to your ilk, we would all be beheaded.

  • I’m Mexican. I can’t be a Democrat.

    2013 wasnt the last decade, it was 5 years ago in this decade.

    Appears education in your part of downunder is pretty poor.

  • Well then David, you’re tallying the number from the NEW IRA who publicly disavowed any membership or links to the Catholic church.

    ha ha ha

    You walked right into that. Priceless how naive liberals are!

    HA hahahah OH HA HAHAHA

    oH MAKING MY BELLY HURT FROM LAUGHING AT YOU david

  • Current day Mormons don’t have any repulsion caused by current murders. That can’t be said of the entire history of Mormonism.

    Your false equivalence is pretending to be Christian.

  • What?

    Maybe you need to take an asprin and have a lie down so you can gather your thoughts, that is, if you’re capable of thought David?

    After all, you’ve already been proven wrong on the IRA and yet now, you’re trying so hard to be wrong again for some demented reason.

  • “Appears education in your part of downunder is pretty poor.”

    AH HAHAHA HAHA HAHA HA OH ohhhh my belly is hurting from laughing at your incredible brain David. HAHAHA

  • I’m sorry that you’re in too deep and this all wnet over your head.

    I’m moving on, this has gotten boring.

    Adios.

  • I didn’t know that a radical fundamentalist Morman Aussie hick spoke for the entire white supremacist world. Nor that I was powerful enough to ruin your bigoted life.

    Actually, I’ve never said anything derogatory about Joseph Smith or any of his “wives”.

  • Awwww, poor little David got schooled again.

    1) Didn’t know the history of the IRA or sectarianism in Nthn Ire and tried to muster an argument on his inadequate knowledge.
    2) Created a few false equivalences and had obvious trouble defending them:

    Never mind little boy. You go play with your lego or go watch cnn and listen to fools who’ll confirm your biases without facts.

  • Ouch. oh David, you’ve got me bad.

    Actually no, you’ve got nought but your *love of perversion*.

    Your mind is a stage David and only you can decide what plays on that lonely stage.

    Never forget that there are 11 Islamic nations on earth where you would be killed for your actions David.

  • This is tragic. But it is not new. In the dark desire for dominance the innocents always suffer:

    “…behold the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, ‘Arise, and take the young Child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy him.’ (Matt 2:13)

    What is new is the light held out to all who seek the Child for the sake of wisdom. As St. Augustine says of this flight into Egypt:”…Moses before had shut up the light of day from the Egyptians; Christ by going down thither brought back light to them that sat in darkness…”

  • And yet people wonder why there is such a fear of Muslims gaining any kind of a foothold in their societies. This is a religion stuck somewhere between the 7th and 13th centuries.

  • Stooges for terrorists say what?

    https://theintercept.com/2015/11/17/islamic-states-goal-eliminating-the-grayzone-of-coexistence-between-muslims-and-the-west/
    “the Islamic State is consciously seeking to trigger a backlash by Western governments and citizens against the Muslim minorities living in their societies. By achieving this, the group hopes to polarize both sides against each other, locking them into an escalating spiral of alienation, hatred and collective retribution. In a such a scenario, the group can later attempt to pose as the only effective protector for increasingly beleaguered Western Muslims.”

    “Through murderous provocation, the Islamic State seeks to trigger a civilizational war between Muslims and the West, violently dragging both parties into such a battle if need be. There can be no real victory in a conflict with such apocalyptic connotations. Instead, Western nations should remain defiant, making clear through word and deed that they refuse to see the world divided on the Islamic State’s terms.

  • You are a terrorist stooge. You are doing work for ISIS

    https://medium.com/war-is-boring/the-islamic-states-assault-on-the-gray-zone-2ba6bbcb24fb
    “Instead, in response to an attack intended to sow xenophobia, Western countries should reaffirm unity for their own Muslim populations and honor their best values by continuing to accept refugees without religious discrimination. Simultaneously, they should also recommit to the military effort against Islamic State enclaves in Iraq and Syria, making clear that there is no contradiction to embracing Muslims at home while fighting terrorists abroad.”

  • Said the stooge who is supporting Islamicist terrorism.

    https://theintercept.com/2015/11/17/islamic-states-goal-eliminating-the-grayzone-of-coexistence-between-muslims-and-the-west/
    “the Islamic State is consciously seeking to trigger a backlash by Western governments and citizens against the Muslim minorities living in their societies. By achieving this, the group hopes to polarize both sides against each other, locking them into an escalating spiral of alienation, hatred and collective retribution. In a such a scenario, the group can later attempt to pose as the only effective protector for increasingly beleaguered Western Muslims.”

  • I agree with you that the source material makes or breaks a religion in terms of whether it works for good or ends up being problematic. Islam has very questionable source material and, as you say, “nothing will improve” until SOMEBODY finds the authority to edit it. (Yes, the same is true with the source material of other religions, too, of course, but we can’t excuse any of them by simply comparing each to the others. They all need some serious clean-up, so we can STAND on the idea that Islam needs some serious clean-up, period.)

  • Religion should be considered a ridiculous fictional mythology today. Religions original purpose was to explain phenomena back before the middle ages . Religion is one of the main reasons why people are divided today – weak minds who do not want to deal with reality and rational thought but have been brainwashed to believe something called “faith” can rule your life… Faith will not cure anything or send you anywhere after you are gone from this human world. Deities are fictional and claiming their “words” or “teachings” are written on books is nonsense. We are human and can easily live as a humanitarians , Rational though will tell you that if you think something “came” from a deity or you spend time praying to a deity – you are irrational or schizophrenic

  • Eh?

    9-29 million killed in the name of Christianity versus 115+ million killed in the name of Marxism/Socialism.

  • Whether it’s religion or anti-religion, people have killed or been killed for their beliefs. We humans need to learn to get along and be kind to each other, whatever our beliefs, even when it’s difficult to do so.

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