Slow investigation into New Year church bombing frustrates Egypt's Copts

Coptic Christians of Egypt are planning to stage demonstrations demanding a speedier investigation into the New Year church bombing in the city of Alexandria that killed 23 and injured 97.

The decision to act was taken as the probe of the bomb explosion in front of the Coptic Orthodox church of Saint Mark in Alexandria is moving at a snail’s pace and the youth of the church are angry, church’s attorney Joseph Malak told the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper.

Malak, who did not disclose the date of the planned protest, complained that the church submitted “several reports and memorandums” to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, attorney general, and interior minister, but those documents had been ignored.

The General Congregation Council of the Coptic Church and the Egyptian Center for Development and Human Rights Studies also issued a joint statement to call on Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, Interior Minister Mansour al-Essawy, and Minister of Justice Mohamed Abdel Aziz al-Guindi to identify the bombers and publicly try them, the newspaper added.

Egyptian investigation agencies had blamed the explosion on foreigners and al-Qaida soon after the incident. But a month later, the agencies reportedly zeroed in on a local group of Islamic extremists which, they said, could have been inspired by, but not directly linked to, al-Qaida. Little has come out of the investigation since then.

Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million people, are anxious about their future. Extremist Muslim groups, which remained underground or inactive during the rule of the now ousted president Hosni Mubarak, got socially and politically active after the fall of the regime which followed the January 25 revolution.

Since Mubarak’s downfall, over 24 Christians have been killed, more than 200 wounded, and three churches destroyed. It is widely believed that conservative Salafi Muslims are behind these attacks.

Salafis, believed to be supported by their counterparts in Saudi Arabia, interpret the Quran literally, seeking to enforce practices that were prevalent during the days of Muhammad, and consider other Muslim movements as heretic. They believe in banning Christian worship and curtailing rights of minorities.

In March, Salafi leader al-Hosseini Kamal cut off the ear of a 45-year-old Christian Coptic man, Ayman Anwar Mitri, in Qena Governorate. Kamal was one of the thousands of terror suspects who were released from detention after the revolution.

The attacks by Salafis are aimed at mobilizing Egyptian Muslims to push for a constitution and other statutes that will leave little room for minority rights, according to World Evangelical Alliance’s Religious Liberty Commission (WEA-RLC).

One of the reasons why violence against Christians is not being dealt with strictly is that it is helping the military leaders, who are in charge of the interim government and have been eyeing a larger financial aid from the United States, says a recent WEA-RLC report.

Anti-Christian violence makes the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist party, appear less extremist leading to perceptions that the party would form the next government. “Any possibility of an Islamist party coming to power makes Washington nervous and therefore more generous towards the transitional government.”

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