ALEXANDRIA: In the Cidi Bishr section of the city, parishioners at the Saints Church pushed through wooden barriers and security guards to receive a Palm Sunday blessing. As Egypt s Coptic Christians commemorated the entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem just days before his execution, it was the death of an elderly parishioner Thursday night that was fresh on the minds of church-goers.
Police say a mentally deranged man with a knife attacked worshippers, killing a 78-year-old man and wounding five others before he was arrested. The man, identified by police as Mahmoud Abdul Razik Salah Eddin Hussein, was said to have attacked several worshippers at the St. George s Church before going to Saints Church, where he allegedly stabbed Noshi Atta Girgis to death. Hussein was charged with murder, illegal entry into a place of worship and illegal possession of weapons.
Saturday s funeral procession led to mass protests as some 3,000 Christians took to the streets demanding government action against the prosecution of Copts, which make up approximately 10 percent of Egypt s 73 million inhabitants.
Concerns of anti-Christian motives sparked widespread fear among the minority group which, over the years has complained of inequality and discrimination. The Coptic patriarch, Pope Shenouda III has repeatedly appealed to the government to assist in getting permits to build churches across Egypt. National guards surrounding the church yesterday say Hussein had been admitted into a mental hospital prior to Thursday s attack but was released.
Many of the worshippers leaving Sunday s Palm Sunday services are skeptical, however, saying they believe this was a conspiracy to cover up a major security flaw in Alexandria.
Our governor is saying that [Hussein] left the church running and found another church right there so he entered it, says Morcos Samy Khalil, a parishioner at the Saints Church. How is this possible? The other church is 45 minutes away from here.
A number of Alexandria s Christians believe that Governor Abdul Salam Mahgoub has failed to ensure the security of Alexandria s minority communities. The coastal city was the scene of violent protests in October over a church play deemed offensive to Islam. A 19-year-old Muslim who stabbed a nun during the rioting was sentenced to three years in jail in February. Three people died in all when the protesters clashed with police.
People are turning off the lights in their homes at night because they are afraid of being targeted, says Hala Demian Seif, a Christian resident of Alexandria. Yesterday, police were looting and attacking stores, pharmacies, shops owned by Christians.
I believe this is an outside force coming into Egypt and causing all of these problems, speculates Ahmed El-Tayel, who owns a store just down the street from the Saints Church. Christians and Muslims have always lived together peacefully.
Relations between Muslims and Christians in Egypt have generally remained peaceful with the exception of occasional outbreaks of sectarian violence, particularly in 1999 when 22 people were killed in the southern village of Kosheh.
The people are scared, says Ibrahim Samy, a Christian Alexandrian. They need to feel that the government and the security are on their side too, otherwise there will be much more chaos and mayhem.