Alexandria: Copts remain on edge after bombing

Salma El-Wardani and Yasmine Fathi in Alexandria, Sunday 2 Jan 2011

Two days after the Alexandria church bombing, Copts remain angry and scared, demanding explanations and action

Alexandria attack
That it was a bleak New Year for residents of Sidi Beshr, in Alexandria, is hardly news any longer. Thanks to an explosion that sent 21 people to early graves, with many others critically injured in hospital beds, a ripple effect has spread across Egypt, with no one certain of what will happen next.

Egypt’s Copts have been in the news for some years, with tensions erupting between Muslims and Christians every now and then, sometimes resulting in loss of life and property. However, the entrance of the car bomb as a weapon has jolted many, instilling fear in the people.

Early this morning, hundreds of worshippers, including families of the victims, gathered inside Saints Church to share their worry, tears, and sympathies.

“Is it going to happen again, mom?” asks nine-year-old Christina, holding her mom after hearing screaming outside the church from the mother of one of the victims.

‘My daughter has nightmares since the blast happened,” says Mary Saad. “They (her two children) were attending Eve prayers when the explosion took place, and they saw limbs and other human body parts fly across the streets."

On the eve of last year's Eid, gunmen fired bullets at Copts emerging from a service in Naga Hamadi killing six. This week was also the 40 day anniversary of the victims of the Omraneya Church incident. Preparations for festivities have been overshadowed with repeated threats from Al-Qaeda against the country’s Coptic community.

‘Why do they have to break our hearts every festival? Excuse me, is that our feast gift?’ says George Malayka, a servant of the church.

“Twenty years ago six of my family members were killed as result of religious clashes and now, so many years later, the tragedy continues,” says Gamal Haleem one of the angry worshippers inside the courtyard.

It appears that it was not just a car that exploded, but also the pent up anger of many Christians. “We want to know why the criminals of the Naga Hamadi massacre have not been sentenced yet,” screamed 60-year-old engineer Magdi Bassily. “Why there is no equality, no unified code for building houses of worship, no amendments to the personal status laws. Why is there discrimination in everything?”

The blast threw the whole Coptic community into panic, with text messages and phone calls made heightening tension even in areas not affected by the blast. "We will seek foreign intervention! We need other powers to save our children if our government cannot secure us," a woman shouted out loud to foreign press, refusing to talk to local media.

The blast sparked reprisals from angry youths in both communities.

‘I knew it. The day before the blast, a group of Islamists launched a demonstration at Qaed Ibrahim Mosque in Mahatet El-Raml chanting verbal threats, saying we know how to give you the feast’s gift," said a young active member of the Alexandria Coptic community. "I think the next move will be the kidnapping of young Christian girls."

Last September, the case Camillia Shehata, a 24-year-old wife of a priest in Upper Egypt who fled her home in July only to be found by the police and returned to the church a few days later, turned into a sectarian issue, with Christians holding angry demonstrations, blaming Shehata's disappearance on Muslims, whom they accused of converting her to Islam, and Muslims accusing Copts of kidnapping Shehata.

"The situation is becoming more and more serious," says Sawsan Abdul Massih, a 63-year-old Christian and member of the Saints Church congregation. "We Copts never had such harsh feelings in Egypt. I used to have Muslim neighbours and I never felt any discrimination, but since the time of Sadat back in the 1970s, religious sensitivities began to emerge, and now the new generation is raised up with this intolerant mentality’

Late President Anwar Sadat is widely seen as having strengthened Islamists' presence, which were fought by former President Gamal Abdul Nasser, implementing policies favouring them in order to stifle the communists.

At the gates of Saints Church, the enormity of the blast is apparent with blood spread over the walls of both the church and the mosque on the other side of the street.







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