Egyptian bishop warns of 'anarchy' after church attacks

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Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina of Guizeh, Egypt / Photo Credit: Aid to the Church in Need

The Coptic Catholic Bishop of Giza says that Egypt will descend into 'anarchy' unless Islamist violence is stopped.

“Without action from the police and the army, it will be chaos, complete anarchy,” Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need on May 9. “The police need to say clearly to those who have done this: ‘You cannot do this. It is not allowed.’”

Muslim mobs recently attacked three of Giza's Coptic Orthodox churches, in a rampage that left 15 people dead and hundreds wounded.

At present, however, Bishop Mina believes the Egyptian army “will not stand up against the people who do this sort of thing,” because “they want to stay neutral” rather than move decisively against the Muslim extremists.

He said the police, for their part, were “frightened” by the perpetrators of Saturday's attacks.

Local reports said that only six police officers arrived at the scene outside St. Mina's Church in Giza on Saturday night. An estimated 3,000 followers of the Salafist Jihadi movement demanded to enter the church, saying a Christian woman had been “kidnapped” there for attempting to become a Muslim.

Denied access to the church, the mob attacked it with grenades and Molotov cocktails and began shooting parishioners. They proceeded to attack two other nearby churches, and local Coptic Christian homes, leaving 232 people wounded in addition to the 15 now confirmed dead.

The army arrived more than four hours after the attacks began, and failed to stop the violence from continuing for almost 10 hours afterward.

A crowd of Christians and sympathetic Muslims demonstrated the next day in Cairo's Tahrir Square, demanding protection for Copts and their churches. Egypt's military government, which replaced former president Hosni Mubarak in February, responded by stepping up security at churches in Cairo.

Bishop Mina, however, wants Egypt's new government to take a stronger stand against terrorist movements that target Christians.

“We cannot make peace and reconciliation without first bringing people to justice,” he stated. “Otherwise, the reconciliation is just theater and the problems will remain.”

The Egyptian army says that 190 people will face military trials for their alleged role in Saturday's violence. Egypt's National Council for Human Rights is planning to release a report detailing the role that military and police inaction played in the incident.

Meanwhile, Egyptian Christians are facing their uncertain future with a resilient attitude.

Luxor's Coptic Catholic Bishop Johannes Zakaria said he was surprised at the strength and resolve he saw in local churches over the weekend.

“I expected that they would be afraid and that it would be necessary to encourage the faithful,” he told Aid to the Church in Need. “But it was they who encouraged me. It is not our character to give up.”

“Next day, we pick up the pieces and start again,” said Bishop Zakaria. “People are determined to bear witness to Christ in the lands where he lived.”

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