Cairo bombing Sisi names suicide bomber as Coptic Christians protest

Cairo bombing Sisi names suicide bomber as Coptic Christians protest

Coptic pope attempts to heal sectarian frictions, saying attack was ‘a disaster for the whole nation’

The coffins of some of the victims of the explosion at St Peter and St Paul church in Cairo

bombing  : Mourners have paid their respects to the victims of Sunday’s attack on the seat of Coptic Christianity in Egypt, as the Coptic pope sought to heal sectarian frictions amid rising anger from a minority that claims it is insufficiently protected.

The attack on St Peter and St Paul church, adjoining Cairo’s St Mark’s Cathedral, took place during Sunday morning prayers and killed 24 people, most of them women and children, according to an updated toll issued by the health ministry on Monday. At least 45 others were injured. There has been no claim of responsibility.

President Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi named a 22-year-old, Mahmoud Shafik Mohamed Mostafa, as the alleged perpetrator of the suicide attack. He said other people, including one woman, had been arrested over their alleged involvement.

As mourners crowded into the Virgin Mary and St Athanasius church in Cairo on Monday, the Coptic pope, Tawadros II, attempted to focus on the unity of Egypt’s grief, denouncing the blast as “not just a disaster for the church but a disaster for the whole nation”.

He added: “Those who commit acts such as this do not belong to Egypt at all, even if they are on its land.”

The dead were given a state funeral attended by Sisi, who has also been careful to stress the need for unity among Egypt’s Christian and Muslim citizens in the wake of the attack.

But for some in the Middle East’s biggest Christian community, those calls are far from enough.

Some survivors criticised lax security measures for the mass, which they said had not coped with the unusually high numbers of congregants. “There were large numbers, so people entered without being searched,” Mina Francis, who was at the mass with his mother, told Reuters. His mother was killed.

Scuffles broke out on Monday as protesters accused police of security failures and demanded Sisi sack the interior minister. Some chanted: “The people demand the fall of the regime,” the rallying cry of the 2011 revolt that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

“People have a volcano of anger inside their chests,” Nora Sedki, a Christian government employee who joined a demonstration of several hundred protesters, told the Associated Press.

Many Copts feel that in Sisi’s Egypt there is a culture of impunity among those who attack Christians, especially in areas such as the town of Minya, almost 140 miles south of Cairo.

Attacks on Christians in Minya, including the burning of buildings suspected of being used for Christian prayers, have spiked this year. In May, a 70-year-old woman in the town of Karam was paraded naked through the streets after being accused of having an affair with a Muslim man.

A database compiled by the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy lists 54 incidents against religious minorities in Egypt in 2016. For some in the Coptic community, Sunday’s attack – the worst since a suicide bombing in 2011 killed more than 20 people – was the latest example of the state merely paying lip service to protecting minorities while failing to do so on the ground.

The town of Tahna al-Gabal, close to Minya, briefly became the eye of the storm for attacks on Christians on 18 July when 27-year-old Fam Mary Khalaf was stabbed to death after he intervened in a street brawl between Muslim locals and the family of local clerics.

Khalaf’s mother, who declined to give her full name, discovered her injured son. “By the time we got him to the hospital, he was already dead,” she told the Guardian this year.

Such attacks have deepened a sense of siege mentality among the Christian population. And, while Khalaf’s mother was initially hopeful that her son’s killers would receive at least 25 years in prison, others were not convinced that justice would be served. No one has yet been tried or convicted for Khalaf’s murder.

“Here, it never happened that the killer of a Christian was given a death sentence,” said one member of the community, who declined to be named. “They try to reduce the sentence by saying the killer was defending themselves,” he added at the time.

Events such as these were testing the relationship between the Coptic community and the Egyptian state long before Sunday’s attack. Egyptian Christians have traditionally sought both spiritual and political representation through the church, which maintains strong ties with the government. This has kept conflict resolution away from state institutions such as the judiciary.

But some, such as John Bushra, an unofficial spokesman for the bishop of Minya, Anba Makarios, and the local secretary general of the pro-government Free Egyptians party, dislike the informal reconciliation sessions favoured by the state, which unite local religious leaders, victims and their attackers to find solutions outside of the judicial system. “These are usually biased against the Christian community,” he said.

For some members of the Christian community in Minya, faith in the justice system has worn thin after decades of violence. “We don’t go to the police as we’ve had bad experiences with them – we don’t trust that there will be justice, plus it could attract too much attention to us within the community” said Nady Khalil, a Minya resident.

“When the people go to the police, they should put religion aside to solve problems,” he said. “From my point of view, that’s not done here.”

Provided by : https://www.theguardian.com

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