THEY HATE US!
By Kristen Chick
After Church bombing, Coptic Christians in Egypt refuse to surrender, even as deadly reality grows more grim
LEXANDRIA, Egypt (TCSM) Worshipers in this city, returned Sunday to the church that was the target of a deadly New Year's Eve bombing to hold a somber mass amid sobering reminders of the worst attack on Egypt's Christian minority in more than a decade.
Glass and debris still lay strewn about on the floor of the Al Qidiseen church where the dead and wounded fell after a suspected suicide bomber detonated explosives shortly after midnight Friday evening, killing 21 and wounding more than 90.
In the sanctuary, some sobbed as they followed the priest in chanting prayers and took communion. But when they emerged, along with wails of grief, there were cries of anger.
Worshipers, many of whom were present on Friday night, bitterly accused the government of failing to protect them. "Where is the government? Where is the security?" screamed one distraught man as others attempted to restrain him.
Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population, have long accused the government of discrimination and injustice, feelings that have only escalated this year. Officials are already working in overdrive to prevent the bombing from deepening the rising tension between Christians and Muslims. But the startling violence of the attack is also likely to exaggerate the growing distrust and isolation that Copts feel from their government.
"Christians believe that they are under attack," says Sameh Fawzy, a Coptic columnist for El Shorouq newspaper. "They think that they are discriminated against in some fields, they think that some crimes against them continue without proper judgment. They think that they are denied access to some key positions in the state. They think that they are politically underrepresented." Their reaction to this violent attack, he says, "reveals their feeling that there is prejudice against them."
GROWING MISTRUST OF GOVERNMENT
Eyewitnesses said police used tear gas and rubber bullets to break up the protests. The streets were calm Sunday as row upon row of security forces in riot gear ringed the block. But inside the church, young men shouted angrily and demanded to know where the police were on the night of the attack.
The Christian community in Egypt, mostly Coptic Orthodox, has increasingly retreated to the church as it feels more discrimination at the hands of the government, leading to increased isolation from the rest of society.
Events this year have only increased tension. In November, Christians in a poor area of Cairo rioted after authorities halted construction of a church. A harsh response by security killed one Christian, and 152 more were arrested. Last Christmas Eve, six Christians and one Muslim were shot dead outside a church in the southern town of Naga Hammadi, and the trial for the accused was repeatedly delayed.
A NEW LEVEL OF VIOLENCE
The government is eager to portray the attack as work of outsiders to dispel sectarian tension, which was evident among some worshipers at the church Sunday.
'THEY HATE US'
Her niece Marina, who was killed in the blast, was due to get married in two weeks. "She had bought everything for her wedding," said Ms. Fawzy before turning away in tears.
Another man said he was wounded fighting for Egypt in the October War, or Yom Kippur War, against Israel. "I brought water to my Muslim comrade who was also wounded," he said. "And this is how they repay me?"
In the hospital next door, a middle-aged man lay on a gurney with a fractured skull and an oxygen mask strapped to his face. He echoed Adel's complaint, saying his wounds came not from the explosion, but at the hands of the security forces Saturday evening as he attempted to enter the church to help retrieve the bodies for the funeral.
"The security forces wouldn't let me in," he said. "They beat me."
In another room, a 3-your-old girl with burns on her face stared blankly at the ceiling, her legs wounded by the bolts and ball bearings packed into the bomb. Her mother and sister were also wounded in the attack, so her aunt and grandmother tended to her, trying to make her comfortable.
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