Egypt’s Christian community is in mourning following what the BBC has referred to as the “deadliest attack on the Coptic community in recent memory”.
At least 25 people were killed and more than 40 injured during the bomb attack on a chapel adjacent to the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of St. Mark in Cairo yesterday (11 December). All but three of those who died were women and children.
“Traditionally, women and children sit on the right side of the church; on the left side are the men,” a local source told World Watch Monitor. “As it was a public holiday, the church was full.
“A woman carrying a heavy bag walked into the church, sat on the women’s side and put her bag on the floor. After a few minutes, she stood up and walked out, leaving the bag behind. A few minutes later there was a huge explosion.
“This sent shock waves across the Christian community all over Egypt. Is this the beginning of another wave of violence against Christians?”
Eye-witness video footage shows the interior of the church littered with broken and scattered furniture, its floor spattered with blood and torn clothing.
“There were children. What have they done to deserve this?” a witness told the Associated Press news agency.
Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has declared a three-day period of national mourning.
Egypt’s Christian minority has often been targeted by Islamist militants. In 2013 the Egyptian military removed President Mohammed Morsi, the elected leader, who had connections with the Muslim Brotherhood. Some of Morsi’s supporters blame Christians for supporting his removal. A month after he was unseated, 82 churches were burned and hundreds of Christian homes and businesses were looted and burned in a two-week period of violence in August 2013.
Discrimination and violence against Egypt’s Christian minority goes back centuries. Blasphemy cases against Christians are frequent. Building or even repairing a church is difficult, if not impossible, and Christians find themselves placed at the end of the queue when it comes to things like education and welfare. Converts from Islam, as in many countries, are especially at risk, often from their families, who may punish them for abandoning Islam with beatings or expulsions from the home.