29 December 2011
CAIRO: Last year. The year before. Attacks on Christian churches in Egypt during the holiday season have been common. This year, however, the country’s popular Muslim Brotherhood said it would protect Christians as they prepare for Coptic Christmas on January 7.
“We have decided to form Muslim Brotherhood committees to protect the churches so that the hands of sin do not ruin the festivities like they did several times under the old regime,” the group said in a statement.
The Brotherhood, which has seen its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), take nearly half of all votes in the first two rounds of parliamentary elections, called on the military junta currently in power, to secure churches across the country during new year celebrations and Christmas the week after.
“We call on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the police to protect the churches in the same way they protected polling stations during the elections,” the Brotherhood said.
Last year, at least 21 people were killed when a car bomb exploded outside the All Saints Church in Alexandria as worshipers were leaving a New Year’s Eve mass.
It has since been made public that the interior ministry was likely responsible for the attack, which galvanized Christians anger toward the government for fomenting sectarian tensions.
In January 2010, six Copts were shot dead as they emerged from a Coptic Christmas Eve mass in the southern Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi.
A Muslim security guard was also killed in the shooting.
Coptic Christians, who account for some 10 percent of Egypt’s 82 million population, have been the target of frequent attacks and complain of systematic discrimination.
On October 9, thousands of Christians marched to the state television building in Cairo demanding justice for a church attack in Aswan and greater rights, but were instead met by the military, which opened fire on the protesters and ran them over with armored vehicles.
At least 27 people were killed in what has become known locally as the Maspero Massacre.
Joseph Zaki, a Christian from Alexandria, told Bikyamasr.com that the situation in Egypt only needs a few outspoken leaders to change sentiment toward the second largest religious community.
“You know, we talk all the time about how to end sectarianism, but the reality is that all we really need is to have leaders speak out and talk about the fact we are all Egyptians,” he said.
“I know it sounds cheesy, but many of my friends, Muslim and Christian, have been at the front of all protests. We have all died together, so why not live together,” he added.
(bikyamasr.com / 04.01.2012)