Two days ago, Father Maqar Fawzy was conducting a ceremony in Alexandria’s Saints Church, praying for a happy and peaceful New Year. Then an explosion struck and took with it the happiness and peace of mind of many of the country’s Copts.
“This devastation is a result of blind extremism that has taken hold of our country,” says Father Fawzy. But he insists that this could be a chance for the country to take a long hard look at itself.
"This could be a wake up call," he says. "We believe that God can turn any evil into good, and this tragedy could help our country in some way — maybe even cause more unity."
Sitting in his small office in the church, he points to the devastation that resulted from the attack on New Years' Eve. Glass is scattered everywhere. Outside, the blood of the victims stains the walls and grounds of the church. This destruction, Fawzy says, is a result of someone who has lost all their humanity.
“How can a human do something like that?” he asks. “When we were picking the body parts, I was thinking this is inhuman, and I am not talking about religion. This is simply a brutality of the heart.”
Father Fawzy recalls the horror of that fateful day. He had just finished the evening prayers at midnight, where the faithful asked God to wash away the sins of the past year and pray for a good year to come. Then the explosion hit.
“There was unbelievable panic at that moment,” says Father Fawzy. “People started screaming and running and children started crying.”
A video uploaded on the Internet of the moment of the explosion showed Father Fawzy trying to gain control of the crowd, telling them there is nothing to fear and to remain calm. When his pleas failed, he began praying loudly.
“At that moment, it didn’t cross my mind that it was a bomb at all,” says Father Fawzy. “I thought that maybe a fan from the ceiling fell and crashed some glass. But then we ran outside and saw the bodies lying everywhere.”
While the government has announced it will pay LE20,000 ($3,445) to the families of each deceased and LE5000 ($861) for the injured, Father Fawzy says that only the strong faith of believers will help them through this ordeal.
“We believe that only God will heal our wounds. Humans cannot bring a person back from the dead, nor can money bring them back,” Father Fawzy told Ahram Online.
Despite that no one has yet taken responsibility for the attack, Father Fawzy believes it a foreign element, possibly Al-Qaeda. “At first we thought that it was part of a sectarian clash. But now we are sure that it is not from Egypt,” he says.
Notwithstanding, Father Fawzy argues that fanaticism has taken root in Egyptian society. Moreover, fanatics are increasing in number. Many do not understand what exactly they are getting themselves into, he said. Sometimes riots break out and people begin using derogatory chants and repeat them without thinking, he added.
“Fanaticism and narrow thinking fills the heart with darkness and evil,” Father Fawzy said. The cancer of extremism has infiltrated the world.
“But our country is special,” says Father Fawzy. “Unlike other countries, Muslims and Christians do not live in separate areas; one building could have Muslim and Christian neighbours.”
The solution to fanatic terrorism, says Father Fawzy is not violence, because it will only bring more violence. The best way to address terrorism is to create proper awareness in society, and to create a healthy environment in which extremism has no place.
Today, many of the country’s Copts are demanding to know why the government did not properly secure churches to prevent attacks, despite repeated threats. But Father Fawzy insists that all the security measures in the world would not solve the problem if we do not address the root of the evil.
“Things that happen suddenly cannot be controlled,” he says. “How easy it is to go and stab someone in their back when they are unaware. As long as a person has evil in them, they can do anything.”