Egypt Church Bloodbath: Are We Heading For Another Decade Of Violence?
The first decade of the new millennium was marked by wars, conflicts and horrendous violence or crimes committed in the name of God. During Christmas celebrations, churches were attacked in Nigeria. In Iraq, the few Christians left are facing persecution for their faith, and are fleeing the country in large number. In the last 10 years, the already latent conflicts simmering between Muslims, Jews and Christians have reached a boiling point and are now the key factor behind wars, sectarian conflicts within nations, and unspeakable murdering sprees afflicting humanity worldwide.
On Saturday, a car bomb exploded in Alexandria, Egypt, killing at least 21 people and wounding 80 people with many of them in critical condition. The target of the attack was the Al-Qiddissin church. The senseless hit came shortly after midnight when a car packed with explosive and metal fragments blew-up as Coptic Christians were leaving the church after an evening mass.
It was the first car bomb attack to hit a church in Egypt, and it comes shortly after threats were made to the Egyptian Christian community. According to survivors, and several eye witnesses, the outside of the church was littered with bloodied clothing while blood was splattered even inside the church. Egyptian police investigators said that the bomb had been packed with shards of metal to maximize the casualties from the explosion. So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the attack which was immediately condemned in strong terms by President Mubarak and Muslims leaders.
“Alexandria has always been a tense city because our Muslim brothers hold a lot of sway. You can feel the tension as soon as you set foot in the city. We are afraid civil war could break out. We had to put surveillance cameras around the church. We do this against our will, because a church should not be a fortress. It should be an open place for everyone,” said Rafiq Greiche, the spokesperson for the Catholic church in Egypt.
Pope Benedict XVI urged world leaders to “protect Christians against discrimination, abuse and religious intolerance.” However, the almost decade-old invasion and occupation of both Afghanistan and Iraq is viewed by many of the 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide as a religious war waged against Islam by Christians.
A few hours after the attack, President Mubarak appeared on state controlled television and expressed his shock.
“The blood of their martyrs in Alexandria mixed to tell us all that all Egypt is the target, and that blind terrorism does not differentiate between a Coptic Christian and a Muslim. We are all in this together, and we will face-up to terrorism and defeat it,” said Mubarak.
But despite President Mubarak’s efforts to defuse the situation, earlier this morning hundreds of Christians protested outside the church shouting “where is the government” and “with our soul and our blood we will redeem the Holy cross”. The protesters are demanding that real measures be taken such as “putting the terrorists responsible for the attack on trial in front of a military tribunal.” The protest turned violent as angry Christian demonstrators clashed with police and Muslims, reportedly throwing stones targeting a Mosque in the immediate vicinity of the church. Several cars were also set on fire as police used tear gas to disperse the protesters.
Sectarian tensions have been recently increasing at an alarming pace across Egypt with violent incidents between religious communities taking place on a weekly basis. The sectarian tensions oppose Egypt’s Sunni Muslim majority and the minority Coptic Christians. Coptic Christians represent 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million people. It is likely that the bloodshed today will be followed by retaliations from the Coptic Christians, which in return will keep fueling this mindless cycle of horrible violence perpetrated in the name of God.
As anti-Muslim sentiments are on the rise in Europe and the United States, anti-Christian ones are reaching a critical mass in Africa and the Middle-East, and this growing intolerance feeds on itself. At the start of this new decade, breaking the cycle of violence, intolerance and hostility between communities of different faith, is probably the most challenging task assigned to human kind.