In Egypt, Christians celebrate Easter Sunday under shadow of Christmas attacks
Many Christians in Naga Hamadi are approaching Easter Sunday with trepidation just months after a striking episode of sectarian violence took place in their quiet city on the banks of the Nile.
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In addition, say Christians – most of whom belong to the Coptic church – authorities fail to investigate or prosecute violence against their communities. Officials dismiss most attacks as individual incidents unrelated to sectarian tensions.Skip to next paragraph
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While these problems have existed for years, the Jan. 6 attack in Naga Hamadi jolted some Egyptians into take a stronger stand.
Revo Nazir, who lives in Cairo, says it has prompted increased dialogue about religious tension. That subject was long taboo for her, she says – but no more.
“I think I’ve been afraid for so long,” she says. “But now I’m fed up with it. I hate being treated unfairly.... We need to stand up and say that something is going on.”
Disgruntlement over Egypt's response to Naga Hamadi attack
Three men have been charged with the Jan. 6 shootings; their trial has been postponed until mid-April. An unknown number of people detained in the aftermath of the violence are still being held.
Shortly after the shootings took place on Jan. 6 but before the suspects were apprehended, the Interior Ministry released a statement saying “preliminary evidence” indicated that the violence was retaliation for the alleged rape of a Muslim woman by a Christian man in the nearby town of Farshout in November.
Most Coptic Christians in Naga Hamadi reject the government’s explanation, pointing to the time lapsed between the incidents and the fact that those killed had no relation or connection to the alleged rapist. They suggested that the shooting was connected to the district’s politics.
One of the men charged with the shooting, a convicted criminal, was hired as a hit man by someone more powerful to intimidate Christians, they say.
Many point to Abdul Rahim El Ghoul, a lawmaker from Naga Hamadi who lost his seat in 2000 and reportedly blamed it on Christians, who typically vote for the candidate chosen by their politically active leader, Bishop Kyrolos.Ghoul has denied any ties to the alleged killer.
“Everyone is asking about who was behind these killings. This is a question that only an independent official investigation can answer,” says Baghat, adding his dismay that the government has focused solely on the shootings, and not the subsequent three days of attacks. “It is regrettable that the investigation and the trial seem to be limited to who pulled the trigger on Jan. 6.”
Christian-Muslim divide deepens
Now, as Christians mark Easter Sunday nearly three months after the violence, many in Naga Hamadi say the divide between Christians and Muslims has deepened.
Gameel Fawzy Ghobrial, who owns a supermarket that was severely damaged by a mob, says one Muslim customer wept when she saw what had happened. But now most of his Muslim clients – and he had many – have begun frequenting shops owned by other Muslims.
“I see that discrimination is getting worse and worse,” says Mr. Ghobrial, who is not related to Kamal despite sharing the same last name. “Although we are the ones who are living in this injustice, the discrimination from their side is getting stronger.“
Eman Zakaria, a Christian whose brother was killed in the Jan. 6 shooting, says students at her son’s school taunt Christian children with threats of another attack. And Ahmed Abdel Wahed, a Muslim, says that when his eyes were damaged by tear gas used to break up clashes after the shootings, he was turned away at Christian pharmacies.
Some hope the incident will be a wake-up call and a turning point for the nation. Bahgat says that the event has already caused a subtle shift in the government’s rhetoric about sectarian tension. Shortly after the attack Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak gave a speech in which, for the first time, he acknowledged a sectarian problem.
“We are actually encouraged by this new discourse by the president about this problem,” says Baghat. “We are calling on the president to turn this into a clear plan on action on eradicating sectarian violence.”