President al-Sisi calls for reforming the religious discourse in Egypt following the attack on Coptic pilgrims in al-Minya.

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Tue, 2018-11-06
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On Friday November 2nd, terrorists attacked two buses filled with Coptic pilgrims on their way to the Monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor, an isolated desert monastery in the governorate of Minya. The attack left seven people dead and wounded 19 others. Christians in the area informed us that when the two buses were attacked, the driver of the large bus was able to continue driving while ducking to avoid the bullets from hitting him. The microbus, however, was less lucky. The seven dead, who all belonged to a single family, were all sitting in this microbus. They were from the city of Minya and were on their way to the Monastery to have a baby baptized.


In May 2017, a similar attack cost the life of 28 Coptic pilgrims. Stories go that a nearby security guard refused to shoot at the attackers, saying that he had not received instructions to do so. Or was it cowardice and him trying to save his own life? Following the May 2017 attack, only pilgrims are allowed to pass this road.


The Guardian concluded that “security measures in place since then [May 2017] are either inadequate or have become lax.” According to the Guardian, the Ministry of Interior declared that the attackers had used secondary dirt roads to reach the buses. The Ministry also reported that they have pursued the militants and killed 19 of them.


The attacks on several Christian locations “left at least 100 people dead, and led to tighter security around Christian places of worship and Church-linked facilities” [The Guardian, November 3, 2018].


The Minya governorate has the highest percentage of Christians in Egypt. According to Bishop Makarios (Maqāriūs) of Minya, they make up around 35% of the population. CAPMAS figures of 1986 present a figure of 19.41%. The CAPMAS published no later figures, but since Christians have on average smaller families and a larger proportion of Christians emigrate, it is unlikely that proportion has increased. Still, 19.41% is a substantial percentage, while at the same time, many Christians seem to be more affluent than local Muslims.


Many Christians from Minya are now reeling with anger. Most would accuse Egypt’s security of doing an inadequate job. Some, however, go as far as venting anti-Muslim sentiments in general, while others are adamant that such sentiments do injustice to the millions of Muslims who have showed their Christian friends sympathy with the attack that they abhor as much as do their Christian fellow citizens.


President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (ʿAbd al-Fattāḥ al-Sīsī) held a minute's silence for the victims, called Coptic Pope Tawadros II (Tawāḍrūs II) to offer his condolences, and called for a reform on the religious discourse in Egypt on the World Youth Forum in Sharm el-Sheikh (Sharm al-Shaykh). The president called the terror attack an “assault on Egyptian citizens, we don't discriminate based on religion and whether a person is Muslim or Christian.”[Egypt's Sisi speaks of reforming religious discourse as first day of WYF concludes, Al-Ahram Online, November 3, 2018]


The World Youth Forum’s events revolve “around a vision inspired by The Seven Pillars of the Egyptian Identity, a book by Milad Hanna (Mīlād Ḥannā) written for the purpose of emphasizing the unity and harmony of Egyptian society despite divergences and differences.” The forum organizers had invited Hany Milad Hanna (Hānī Mīlād Ḥannā) the son of the late Milad Hanna, to give the opening remarks at the forum.” Hanna stressed that his father believed in the importance of respecting religious pluralism in society, considering it the foundation of a civil state governed by citizenship rights.” [Menna Alaa El-Din (Mīnā ʿAlāʾ), In Photos: President Sisi inaugurates Second World Youth Forum in Egypt's Sharm El-Sheikh, Al-Ahram Online, November 3, 2018]


President al-Sisi “also highlighted the right to worship for all Egyptians, pointing out that the state is involved in building a church in new neighborhoods.” In 2016, Egypt passed a law on church building that has contributed to legalizing 340 churches that had been built without the required permits [Egypt's Sisi speaks of reforming religious discourse as first day of WYF concludes, Al-Ahram Online, November 3, 2018].


We know the region where the victims came from well. On June 8, 2017, two of our interns, Dina Bouchkouch (Dīnā Būshkūsh) (French, Muslim) and Shen Shangyun (Chinese, Christian) visited the area to offer condolences following the attack in May 2017 that left 28 Coptic pilgrims dead. Dina wrote then a very moving report on what they have experienced when they visited families. This visit had been prepared by Father Yo’annis (Yūʾānnis) of the village of Qufada. On August 13, 2018, we decided to go again with interns into this area. We were received by father Epiphanius (Epiphaniyūs) of the Bishopric in Maghagha (Maghāghah). The church here had been completely demolished in previous years and rebuilt by Bishop Aghathon (Aghnāṭiyyūs). 


In the church they had created a place for the martyrs of Maghagha, this is how the victims of the May 2017 attack were called. The bodies had not yet been placed here. The young priest told us that Christians are not afraid to die since they know that if they die they will go straight to heaven to be with God. Other victims had come from the village of Dayr al-Garnous (Dayr al-Jarnūs).



 Father Shenouda (Shinūda) showed us the chapel they had built for them and handed us a flyer with the martyrs of Dayr al-Garnous. We also visited the Coptic Orthodox Bishopric of Beni Mazar and found there a large banner with the images of the martyrs of Beni Mazar (Banī Mazār). Victims were buried in the place they are from.




Photos of the martyrs were disseminated. It is the cult of martyrdom that helps the local churches to deal with such atrocities. 





Around a month ago, I visited Minya with a delegation of the Moral Rearmament Association and met with Bishop Makarios of Minya. The bishop was both highlighting the proportion of Christians in this governorate, as well as, stressing that Christians would not give in to pressure. This time, sadly, the victims came from his diocese. We offer him, the family of the victims, and his community in Minya our condolences.


During all visits we met with local Muslims who abhor the violent attack against their Christian brothers and sisters. We felt very much welcomed by all local Egyptians. In Beni Mazar we ate in Diwan, an excellent local restaurant that is owned by a Muslims and Christian together. It is, however, unfortunately the acts of a few and much reporting that makes one believe that there are widespread tensions between Muslims and Christians, but that is not true. Yet, the purpose of terrorists is to create that division. One-sided reporting on Christian victims plays into their hands. The focus at the World Youth Forum on Milad Hanna’s “The Seven Pillars of the Egyptian Identity,” is therefore an excellent way of opposing extremism.



Cairo, November 5, 2018


Cornelis Hulsman,


Editor-in-chief Arab-West Report


All photos in this newsletter were made by intern Lorena Stancu during our visit on August 13 to Maghagha and Dayr al-Garnous.