A suicide bomber attacked a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria, Egypt on New Year’s Day, killing 21 people. Egypt’s Christian community appears to have heard the last straw breaking in the sound of that terrible blast. The Associated Press reports rioting in both Alexandria and Cairo over the weekend, resulting in dozens of injured policemen.
The bombing was the latest in a string of violent incidents directed at the Coptic community, which makes up a little over fifteen percent of the Egyptian population. In fact, the Associated Press quotes a study from Christian-rights activists listing 52 incidents over the last two years. Amazingly, no one was punished for any of these offenses, fueling the widespread perception that the Egyptian government is increasingly indulgent of radical Muslims, at the expense of the Copts. There are also complaints of job discrimination and government interference in the building of churches, which led to civil unrest last November, when officials used force to stop the construction of a church in Cairo.
Egyptian Christians fear they can see their future playing out at hyper-speed in Iraq, whose ancient Christian community is well on its way to extinction. The homes of a half-dozen Christians in Baghdad were targeted over the weekend, resulting in two more deaths. The horrific October attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad was supposedly perpetrated because Egyptian Christians would not allow two women to convert to Islam.
Interestingly, some in Egypt see this violent strain of Islam as a contagion, deliberately cultivated to end a long history of relatively peaceful co-existence. The AP quotes Christian scholar Youssef Sidhom: “The infiltration of political Islam into our education, our schools, into the hearts and minds of school teachers and into our school books and is extremely dangerous, because it produces innocent children who are infected by the version of Islam that does not accept the other and preaches non-acceptance of Christians.”
The rage of Egyptian Christians is a vote of no confidence in a government they feel is no longer dedicated to their protection. Their anger has drawn an international response. German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared over the weekend that her government “condemns these barbaric acts of terror, in which Christians but also Muslims lost their lives.” Pope Benedict said the bombing, along with those in Iraq, “offends God and all of humanity.” French president Nicholas Sarkozy called the attack “cowardly and pathetic,” while England and Italy went on to denounce the violent persecution of Christians around the world. President Obama called for the perpetrators to be “brought to justice for this barbaric and heinous act.”
There have also been encouraging denunciations from Muslim nations, including Saudi Arabia, Syria, Morocco… and even Hamas, which called it “the work of elements acting against the interests of Egypt,” according to a Reuters report. On the other hand, the Jerusalem Post reports lawyers at a meeting of the Egyptian Bar Association fingered the Mossad as the real villain behind the attack, acting in response to “the latest uncovering of an Israeli espionage network.” This could be the same Mossad network that an Egyptian official claimed was responsible for deploying sharks in the Red Sea to suppress tourism last month.
If Egypt wants to maintain its standing in the world community, it had better start doing a better job of protecting its Christians. The government may not be able to wipe out all of the violent Islamist cells, but it can start draining the cultural and academic fever swamps where they breed, and make sure they cannot act with impunity.