Church Bombing Surfaces Egypt's Deeper Problems

Sectarian violence rises in a country that was long a model of pluralism

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The New Year's Day car bombing of a Christian church in Alexandria, Egypt has since set off a wave of protests, counter-protests, and angry recriminations that have much of Egypt reeling. The bombing killed 21 people. Though the country has a long history of peacefully coexisting with its Christians, known as Copts, this attack comes after a gradual rise in violence against the Coptic community over the past decade. The day after the attack, Coptic protesters in Cairo, outraged that Egyptian security was failing to protect them, attacked policemen, wounding 45. As Coptic Christmas approaches on January 7, many in Egypt fear more violence against the Coptic minority. The recent attack has also brought longer-term problems back into the public discourse as well. There's no shortage of blame being assigned both within and without the country. Here's what they're saying.

  • Return of 1990s Anti-Christian Violence  The New York Times' Liam Stack and David Kirkpatrick call the attack "the bloodiest year in four decades of sectarian tensions in Egypt" and "the culmination of a long escalation of violence against Egypt’s Coptic Christians." But still, it is newly brutal and "a break with the smaller episodes of intra-communal violence that have marked Muslim-Christian relations for the past decade. Instead, it was reminiscent of the 1990s attacks by Egyptian Islamist terrorists on Christians, tourists and government institutions."
  • Egypt's Christians Feel 'Besieged'  The Associated Press' Paul Schemm writes, "In the last couple years in particular, the country's Coptic Christian minority, which makes up 10 percent of the country's 80 million, has felt under siege following a string of incidents." But it's been more than just violence. "Christians rioted after government forces violently stopped the construction of a church near Cairo in a long-running dispute over restrictions on building Christian houses of worship." In another incident, "the government ordered the destruction of a quarter-million pigs as a dubious prevention measure against swine flu, devastating the livelihoods of Cairo's large community of Christian garbage collectors, who raised the animals to dispose of organic waste. The Christians saw it as an expression of Muslim disgust at pigs thinly disguised as a health concern."
  • Egyptian Society Has Failed  Al-Ahram columnist Hani Shukrallah fumes in an open letter to his fellow Egyptians.

I accuse a government that seems to think that by outbidding the Islamists it will also outflank them.

I accuse the host of MPs and government officials who cannot help but take their own personal bigotries along to the parliament, or to the multitude of government bodies, national and local, from which they exercise unchecked, brutal yet at the same time hopelessly inept authority.

I accuse those state bodies who believe that by bolstering the Salafi trend they are undermining the Muslim Brotherhood, and who like to occasionally play to bigoted anti-Coptic sentiments, presumably as an excellent distraction from other more serious issues of government.

But most of all, I accuse the millions of supposedly moderate Muslims among us; those who’ve been growing more and more prejudiced, inclusive and narrow minded with every passing year.

  • Activists and Muslim Brotherhood Join in Coptic Protests  The Daily New Egypt reports, "Hundreds of protestors from various opposition groupss--including the Muslim Brotherhood (MB)--gathered in Shubra on Saturday night to denounce the attack on Al-Qeddesine Church (The Church of the Two Saints) that occurred in Alexandria earlier that day." Al-Masry Al-Youm explains that the protests have come to incorporate wider anger against the authoritarian regime. "The protesters, who came from different political factions like Egyptians against Religious Discrimination group and the 6 April movement, chanted anti-government slogans such as, 'Down with the sectarian state,' and 'Long live the Crescent with the Cross."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.