Riots have broken out in southern Egypt after an attack on Christians. Arabic broadcaster Al-Jazeera reported Thursday clashes between some 2.000 Christians and the police. In the town of Nag Hammadi, at least six Coptic Christians and a Muslim security guard were shot dead during the night after a Christmas mass.
After the bloody attack, there were angry protests by the Christian population. As the Arabic broadcaster El Jazira reported on its English-language website, clashes ignited between several hundred protesters and security forces in Nag Hammadi. Police dispersed the crowd with tear gas and water cannons, the station reported, citing police sources. According to the reports, it is an act of revenge by Muslims for an alleged rape of a 12-year-old girl by a Christian. According to El Jazira, the families of the killed Christians protested in front of the morgue of a hospital in Nag Hammadi. They had refused to receive their murdered relatives for burial and had called for government intervention. According to El Jazira, the local Coptic bishop, Kyrillos, had received threats beforehand. According to further reports, there had already been attacks by Muslims against Christians immediately after the alleged rape in November. Church buildings had been set on fire and damaged in the attack. Police had told the bishop not to leave his home for security reasons. The pastor of the German-speaking community in Cairo, Monsignor Joachim Schrodel, warned against judging the attack as a sign of a general escalation between Christians and Muslims in Egypt. "We are actually on a good path in interreligious relations," he told the Catholic News Agency (KNA). He does not see signs of a conflagration, especially in the metropolises of Cairo and Alexandria. Many Muslims would have spontaneously expressed regret for the attack. The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) asked German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) to press the Egyptian government to protect the Christian population. "Instead of spreading rumors about the motives of the perpetrators, defaming the Christian community and inciting Muslims against them, Cairo must finally take concrete security measures for the threatened minority," said the STP's Middle East consultant Kamal Sido in Gottingen.
Coptic bishop: Christians always live dangerously in Egypt
The situation for Christians in Egypt has worsened in recent years. The general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Germany, Anba Damian, complained at the end of the year in an interview with the international aid organization "Aid to the Church in Need" that attacks by radical Muslims are becoming increasingly frequent. Society is increasingly moving closer to conservative Islam. Problematic, he said, is the large number of illiterate people. This is how most Muslims got their political education at Friday prayers.If the imam preaches peacefully, people leave the mosque accordingly, Damian said. If they were incited, the situation would be different. The bishop also criticized the behavior of security officials and authorities. Sometimes, he said, it takes three months for Coptic bishops to get an appointment to talk to the local governor about the attacks. Faster, they say, if they approached President Hosni Mubarak. But they did not want to get their rights by its grace, but by the law.Freedom of religion must be taken more seriously in Egypt, Damian demanded. The government should guarantee this, but otherwise stay out of religious affairs. Its task instead, he said, is to fight poverty, ignorance and disease. According to the bishop general, Christians are disadvantaged in education and on the job market. Moreover, he said, the proportion of Copts in the population is out of proportion to their representation in politics.
Copts in Egypt
The Copts are the largest Christian community in Egypt. They trace their beginnings back to the evangelist Mark. Depending on the statistics, Coptic Christians make up between 6 and 15 percent of the 80 million population. But in parliament there are only four Copts among the 440 deputies. In Germany, there are eight Coptic Orthodox communities with a total of about 6.000 members.Together with Armenians, Syrians and Ethiopians, the Copts belong to the so-called Old Oriental Churches. Because of theological disputes, they distanced themselves from the rest of Christendom after the Council of Chalcedon in 451. The council had held the doctrine that Christ was both God and man. The Old Orientals, on the other hand, clearly put the accent on the divine dimension of Christ.Since then, two churches with two bishoprics have developed in parallel in Alexandria, one of the most important centers of the early church: In addition to the Coptic Patriarchate, there is a Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. In addition, there are the Catholic Copts, who are linked to Rome and number around 200.000 members count. In the course of the ecumenical opening and the Second Vatican Council, Catholics and Copts started a theological dialogue. In 1973, the Popes Paul VI signed. and Zhenuda III. in Rome an agreement in which both churches profess the same faith – despite different formulations. Controversy remains over the position of the bishop of Rome.