Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

From Khosus to the Cathedral: New Attacks on Copts

Attack on Coptic Funeral

From my article on Arab West Report, on the recent attack on the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral:

Sectarian violence struck Egypt again on Friday, April 6, as at least four Christians and one Muslim were killed in an incident in Khusūs, in the governorate of Qalyubia, to the north of Cairo. Clashes continued on Sunday, and spread to the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in downtown Cairo, where a funeral procession was attacked by unknown assailants. Religious and political leaders have condemned the violence and called for calm, but much about the original incident remains unclear.

The report aggregates information from varied local media sources, with links provided. But the unique contribution is the report of an investigative reporter who visited and spoke with local sources. His testimony is quite specific:

Many of these details are difficult to sort, but investigative reporter Rā’id Sharqāwī visited the area and offers a possible explanation. He collected testimony saying Muslim youths drew the Nazi swastika on the wall, and were confronted by authorities. A crowd gathered, as is common during disputes, and drew in local residents including members of a prominent Christian family living opposite the Azhar institution.

A younger member of this family confronted the Muslim youth, asking him why he was drawing offensive symbols on the wall. In the heated exchange this Christian drew his gun and shot the Muslim, killing him. This produced great tumult in the area, and took place around 12 noon.

The Christians, however, were not killed until around 4pm, and in a manner Sharqāwī found mysterious and perhaps conspiratorial. A group of men armed with automatic weapons drove in from outside the area on motorcycles and fired, somewhat randomly, at a group of assembled Christians. At this time stores were broken into and looted; Sharqāwī surmised it was an organized effort to take advantage of the chaos. The situation was not helped by the diffusion of rumors throughout the village, that each religious community was attacking the other.

The article continues by summarizing details of the attack on the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, the seat of the pope, during a funeral procession for the slain Copts. It was an ugly, ugly incident. The response of the presidency will be closely monitored, but in immediate rhetoric he declares the attack on the cathedral was an attack on himself. Most Copts would say this is well and good, but nearly all previous, smaller scale attacks on Christians have gone unpunished.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood protests and claims conspiracy against the stability of the state. This is from the conclusion:

Is there a conspiracy leveled against the Brotherhood to spark sectarian tension and drive the country to chaos? Or, must they invent a conspiracy to cover over the latent sectarian tension which exists and erupted naturally, in order to blame hidden hands for the failures of their governance? These questions are far beyond the scope of this report or any subsequent investigations. But they are the questions asked accusingly by both sides of the Egyptian street.

The nation is awash in conspiracy, allegation, and rumor, and who can say it does not exist? But it is hoped this report provides a first step at least in gathering the purported facts, to prevent manipulations based on only a sampling of the above.

Please click here to read a high ranking Coptic bishop’s spiritual response to recent events, and my brief reflection. Please click here to read the full article at Arab West Report. May God protect Egypt.


On the Message of Bishop Raphael to Coptic Mourners

From Ahram Online, during the funeral sermon for Copts killed in sectarian violence in Khosus, but before the attack on the cathedral itself:

“This deep wound, which is not the first of its kind, leaves me with three messages in my heart,” said Rafael.

“One is to the heavens…We [Copts] believe in heavens’ justice…Christ taught us that he avenges the blood of the martyrs and that the martyrs’ blood is not forgotten by God,” he said, to which mourners responded by chanting: “With our souls and blood, we will protect the cross.”

“My second message is directed to Egypt: We will not leave…governments cannot rule by shedding blood,” Rafael added, to which mourners responded: “We will not leave; this is our country!”

“My third message is directed at Egypt’s Copts: We shall not abandon our faith,” the Bishop concluded. “The bloodshed only makes us embrace our faith even more… We will not compromise our religious ethics, which call us to love all.”

Bishop Raphael is the general bishop for the region of central Cairo, and was one of three candidates for the papacy following the death of Pope Shenouda. His first message is one of patience, but the people responded aggressively.

His second message was of anger, and is odd. The government did not kill the Copts of Khosus, though most Copts are very frustrated with President Morsi and the failure to properly investigate sectarian attacks since the revolution. Perhaps he refers to the bloodshed in Egypt under Morsi’s administration in general. Whatever his meaning, the people responded with a haughty and defiant assertion of their status as the original Egyptians.

His third message must set everything right, and the response of the people is not given. Perhaps that is appropriate, as the next stage is not yet written. Egyptian Christians are facing a tremendous challenge, and their spontaneous reaction was to return violence against attackers and security forces alike.

There is a legitimacy of defending the cathedral; enough has happened in Egypt so far to have made them fear the worst. But it is their call to Christian ethics, to love, which must take hold of clergy and laity alike.

It is no guarantee of success, but it is the way of their faith. Will God prove faithful? If so, how? It is not usually in ways which equate with our comfort.

Rarely, however, has so much been asked of believers.