On Wednesday, January 6, 2010, following the Coptic Christmas Eve celebrations in the Southern Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi, masked gunmen opened fire on the exiting worshipers, killing seven Copts and injuring scores of others. The gunmen, most likely a radical jihadist offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood intended to assassinate the Coptic Bishop Kirollos. Attacks in Egypt on the Christian-Coptic minority by incited Muslim mobs have become a frequent occurrence in recent years.
An unnamed eye witness to the shootings told the Coptic News Bulletin at the Nag Hammadi hospital that the situation was critical for the injured because of shortages of blood for transfusions. He quipped that, “The Muslims promised us a wonderful Christmas, and I think the message has now been received…”
Bishop Kirollos accused the security services of negligence in dealing with the events which led to the massacre and added: “Not one single security man intervened to prevent casualties.” He criticized the absence of adequate State Security forces guarding the church, which is customary during such events and especially in light of the unrest which took place in the area in November 2009.
Bishop Kirollos had recently received a death threat for criticizing the Egyptian authorities and speaking out in defense of the Christian victims of the November 2009 attack, in the areas of Farshout, Abu Shusha, Aerky, and Alshokeify, all part of the Nag Hammadi parish.
In a letter sent to Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak by Dr. Monir Dawoud, President of the American Coptic Association he wrote:
“The failure to protect the lives and properties of the Christians, to implement Presidential decrees and to uphold the law not only defeats the leadership’s efforts to improve the human rights situation of the Copts, but also embarrasses Egypt in a time when more States than ever are making leaps forward towards protecting human rights. As the tide of democratization ushers in our region, Egypt is called upon – through your Excellency – to take all necessary practical measures: constitutional, legal, political and social to respect the rights of all its citizens.”
The letter to President Mubarak enumerated all the recent attacks on Copts:
“We are writing to you to express our deep concern over the latest attacks on Coptic churches in Sinnouris of Fayoum preceded by that of Shebin El-Kom, Menoufia where the churches had been set on fire leading to complete destruction. This has been going on for a very long time and the security forces and government have been closing their eyes. To mention some of these attacks we may go back to a few of them. The attacks on the defenseless Christian citizens in the churches of Alexandria, on April 14, 2006, resulted in the death of one man and later another, besides seriously injuring several dozens of the worshippers inside their churches.
Dr. Dawoud added:
“These attacks were preceded by other attacks couple of months ago at the same city. These followed attacks on the Christians of Al-Udeisat village in Luxor, which took place on January 18, 2006. The attacks left behind two dead, scores injured, many lives shattered and properties destroyed. To anybody’s astonishment, the violence – according to Egyptian press – was instigated by some members of the National Democratic Party, local government and security officials.”
While hosing Mubarak in the White House last August, President Obama described the Egyptian president as a “force of stability,” deliberately ignoring an abysmal human rights record and turning a blind eye to the persecution of the Christians in Egypt. And while the Obama administration has given the Egyptian regime unqualified support, the Egyptian government has practiced a two-faced policy towards the U.S.
To assuage the growing influence and power of Islamists in Egypt, and to counter the political ambitions of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Mubarak regime has implemented a more Islamic educational system, and the “Vatican of Sunni-Islam”- Al Azhar Islamic University in Cairo has been allowed to become even more radical in its rulings.
The Egyptian government including its Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit incited anti-western (Christian) demonstrations in the Muslim world when he circulated a report on the Danish cartoons labeling them as anti-Islamic. This same government outwardly condemned the Hezbollah in the 2006 Israeli-Lebanese War while portraying the group as a heroic band who defeated Israel. Mubarak also called for an unconditional cease-fire in direct opposition to the U.S. policy.
The Mubarak regime has encouraged the violent campaign against Coptic Christians as a diversion from its oppressive domestic policies, which have stifled democratic opposition groups, human rights and religious freedom. By maintaining the status-quo with Egypt, the Obama administration is endorsing the continued suppression and discrimination policies against the Copts.
Coptic-Christians are denied social, economic, and educational opportunities. Although Copts comprise over 10% of the Egyptian population, Christians are under-represented in government positions, are discriminated against in courts, and denied due process as well as basic civil rights.
The Obama administration has given Mubarak a free pass. Egypt’s aid package of $2.2 Billion in U.S. taxpayers’ money is secure, all in the name of preventing Egypt from becoming another radical Muslim state. But, Mubarak’s police state and lack of accessibility to power by legitimate means, makes the future of the regime uncertain. To appease the Islamists who threaten his regime, Mubarak has made the Coptic-Christians the scapegoat for the frustrations of the Muslim masses.
The attacks against Copts and Christian churches as demonstrated by the Christmas Eve attack in Nag Hammadi must not be allowed to continue. American must use its aid dollars as leverage in applying pressure on the Mubarak regime so that Copts gain equality and protection under the law.