Anger Erupts in Egypt After Christian Pilgrims Are Ambushed and Killed by Islamist Militants

Relatives and friends carry the coffins of brothers Nadi Yousef Shehata, right, and Reda Yousef Shehata after a funeral service at the Church of Great Martyr Prince Tadros, in Minya, Egypt, on Nov. 3, 2018. Coptic Christians in the Egyptian town of Minya prepared to bury their dead a day after militants ambushed three buses carrying Christian pilgrims on their way to a remote desert monastery. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

The Coptic bishop of this city south of Cairo, Anba Makarios, spent the weekend trying to comfort mourners after two buses carrying Coptic Christians were ambushed Friday (Nov. 2) as they left a monastery here, killing seven of the pilgrims and wounding 19. The Islamic State in Egypt claimed responsibility for the attack.

But during Makarios’ appearance at Prince Tadros Church, as the bishop thanked provincial officials for issuing the necessary permits to conduct public funerals, the congregation erupted in anger.

“Don’t thank them,” shouted the mourners as elderly women leaned in grief over the coffins of the victims.

“With our souls and our blood, we will protect the cross,” they chanted as young men started fist-punching the air.

The attack in the desert this weekend was the second assault at the same location by the Egyptian branch of the Islamic State. A May 2017 ambush on the road to the monastery left 28 people dead. Now, Coptic Christians say they have had enough of promises.

“Government ministers talk about our common citizenship, a concept that is impossible to see when we are constantly subjected to violence,” said Kamel Hanna, a building contractor from Sohag. Hanna had come to stand vigil at Sheikh Zayed hospital in Cairo’s suburbs, where his niece and nephew, along with 11 others injured in the attack, were being treated. “This violence is a tax we pay just for being Christians.”

Copts, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 100 million people, have seen increasing violence against their community since 2013, when the country’s first democratically elected president, the Islamist-backed Mohammed Morsi, was deposed by the army. The months after the coup saw multiple attacks on Christian churches.

In December 2017, a gunman killed 11 people in an attack on St. Menas Church in Helwan, near Cairo. That attack came just weeks after the Coptic community had marked the anniversary of a suicide bombing that killed 29 and injured 47 at St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church, part of the large cathedral complex that includes the Cairo residence of Pope Tawadros II.

Despite the rash of violence, Pope Tawadros and the Coptic community have been seen as a pillar of support for the coup leader and current President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

Fearful of Morsi’s Islamist tendencies, many Copts turned out in the popular unrest that led to his ouster. Priests in Coptic churches have since urged their congregations to turn out to vote for el-Sissi, characterizing both the leader and Egypt’s armed forces as their ultimate protector.

El-Sissi has shown favor for the Coptic churches in return. The president has allowed the construction of new churches and pushed for equal protection in employment and the exercise of religion, including a measure easing the way for Christians to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem just as Muslims take time off to make the hajj to Mecca.

Last Christmas el-Sissi attended a dedication ceremony at the massive Nativity of Christ cathedral built in the government’s new administrative capital, a $45 billion project rising in the desert sands 28 miles east of Cairo.

But the regime is coming under increasing fire from the Coptic community for failing to stop Islamist terror and limiting access to the hospitals where the injured are being treated in Cairo and in Upper Egypt.

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SOURCE: Religion News Service, Jacob Wirtschafter and Mina Nader