Feature

Egypt: Why are Coptic Christians under attack?

A suicide bomber struck a midnight service at a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria over New Year’s, killing 23 people and wounding scores of others.

A heinous massacre has shattered interfaith harmony in Egypt, said Pakistan’s Daily Times in an editorial. A suicide bomber struck a midnight service at a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria over New Year’s, killing 23 people and wounding scores of others. While no group has claimed responsibility, suspicion immediately fell on an Iraqi group linked to al Qaida, which has threatened to attack the Coptic church for allegedly kidnapping two Coptic women who wanted to convert to Islam. “Instead of falling for their propaganda, Muslims should join hands and fight the scourge of terrorism.” The attack hit Egypt, but its target was all people of faith everywhere. We must show Christians, and indeed the world, that “Islam is a religion of peace.”

Spare us the “hypocrisy,” said Coptic journalist Hani Shukrallah in Cairo’s Al-Ahram. Egyptian Muslims have denounced anti-Christian violence many times over the years, “yet the massacres continue, each more horrible than the one before it, and the bigotry and intolerance spread deeper and wider into every nook and cranny of our society.” It’s far too easy to blame al Qaida or whichever fundamentalists carried out this latest attack. The real culpability lies deeper. I accuse the Egyptian government, which coddles and appeases extremists in the hope of siphoning support from the opposition Muslim Brotherhood. I accuse my fellow Christians, who fail to show “a minimum of backbone” and stand up for their rights. “But most of all, I accuse the millions of supposedly moderate Muslims” who toss out casual slurs against “arrogant Copts.”

Don’t let this terrorist act create mistrust between Christian and Muslim Arabs, said Saudi Arabia’s al-Watan in an editorial. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak himself said he believed outsiders were to blame, and we suspect which ones: “Most likely it was an Israeli hand seeking to ignite the situation in the region.” But blaming outsiders is not productive, said Lebanon’s Daily Star. All the ingredients for sectarian strife exist in Egypt in abundance. Extremism, after all, “mostly takes root in socie­ties with a large percentage of unemployed, poor, uneducated” people. Egypt has millions of such unfortunates, from both religions. That’s a large recruitment pool for terrorists of any stripe. Until “the contributing factors for terrorism are addressed,” calls for religious harmony will do “little good.”

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