First Published: 2017-10-22

Cairo killing sparks security concerns among Copts
Christians are being targeted, not only by ISIS, but by militant groups such as Hasm, a radical militia with ties to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
Middle East Online

By Ahmed Meghid - CAIRO

ecurity forces stand outside a Coptic church in Tanta

Christians in Egypt called for increased security following the killing of a priest in a knife attack in Cairo, with some people suggesting that priests be armed.

The Reverend Samaan Shehata, a priest from the central province of Beni Suef, was stabbed to death October 12 while visiting Cairo. Authorities said the assailant was “mentally disturbed.”

Shehata’s death is the latest in a series of attacks against Egypt’s Christians and prompted renewed calls for them to take their safety and security into their own hands.

“There is shock and fear every­where among the Christians after the cowardly murder of Father Samaan,” said Bishop Refail al- Hakim, who oversees a group of churches in Cairo. “The incident reveals the enormity of the threats facing the Christian minority in this country.”

Egypt’s Christian minority, ap­proximately 10% of the popula­tion of 94 million, has been the target of many attacks in recent years. In addition to the occasional flare-up of sectarian tensions with Muslims, Christians have been the prime target of attacks by Islamic State (ISIS) militants, who have a stronghold in Egypt’s Sinai Penin­sula.

Observers said Christians were being targeted, not only by ISIS, but by militant groups such as Hasm, a radical militia with ties to the outlawed Muslim Brother­hood, owing to Christians’ strong backing from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

“Repeated attacks against the Christians aim primarily to sow the seeds of tension between them on one hand and the government and their Muslim compatriots on the other,” said retired police General Mamdouh al-Kidwani. “The ter­rorists hope that Christians’ grow­ing feeling of insecurity will make them turn against President Sisi.”

This is unlikely given the many measures Sisi has endorsed to pro­tect Egyptian churches, including deploying increased security out­side them.

Egypt’s churches have recruited volunteers to provide additional security, with a new programme to give church volunteers po­lice training on how to carry out searches receiving government en­dorsement.

Increased security outside churches does not stop individual priests being attacked, however, and Shehata’s death prompted calls on social media for priests to be given weapons.

“Priests should be armed,” said one Christian activist on Face­book. “Everybody has the right to defend themselves, even priests.”

Coptic Pope Tawadros II dis­missed proposals for priests to be issued weapons licences. “This is completely rejected and is not even worthy of debate,” he said. “It is completely forbidden for priests to carry arms, no matter what.”

Shehata was shopping in Cairo’s northern al-Marg district when he was killed, said another priest, Beymen Moftah, who was with him at the time of the attack.

“The attacker targeted Father Samaan only because he was Christian,” Moftah was quoted as telling investigators.

Egyptian authorities have sought to play down the incident with claims that the attacker was “mentally disturbed” but Chris­tians are wary, having seen similar attacks — and similar responses from the authorities — in the past.

Kidwani said the incident was a new challenge for security forc­es. “The fact is that the security establishment cannot secure every single priest or Christian,” he said.

He rejected calls for priests to be allowed to carry arms to defend themselves, saying this would exacerbate the problem. “Army troops and policemen are killed in Sinai and in other areas, even as they carry arms,” Kidwani said.

The Reverend Polis Halim, the of­ficial spokesman of the Coptic Or­thodox Church, suggested a com­prehensive approach to attacks against Christians. “The priests are not supposed to carry arms either because arms should only be in the hands of the state,” Halim said. “If priests are allowed to carry arms, mosque imams and sheikhs will be justified in demanding the same thing for themselves.”

He called for a cultural, legal and security campaign to ensure the safety of Egypt’s Christians, saying people need to be taught that those who follow a different faith are not enemies or infidels but pray to the same God, albeit in a different manner.

“There must be laws that inflict heavy punishment on those who attack others only because they believe in a different religion,” Halim said. “Our society really needs to wake up and learn toler­ance before it is too late.”

Ahmed Meghid is an Egyptian reporter based in Cairo.

This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.


Assad in Russia for talks with Putin

Islamic republic declares end of Islamic State

Revolt in US State Department over child soldier law

Anti-IS coalition strikes drop to lowest number

Rare moments of joy at Arabs’ unprecedented World Cup qualifications

Brain drain means Syria can’t recover for a generation

Palestinians close communication lines with Americans

German police arrest six Syrians ‘planning terror attack’

Palestinian factions in Cairo for reconciliation talks

Turkish opposition daily web editor sentenced to 3 years in jail

Egypt’s Sisi to meet Lebanon’s Hariri

Israeli police arrest 33 in ultra-Orthodox draft riots

Turkish lira at new low against US dollar

UN chief horrified by Libya slave auctions

Qatar 2022 chief has no regrets over hosting World Cup

Gheit says Lebanon should be 'spared' from regional tensions

Saudi Arabia, Arab allies push for unity against Iran, Hezbollah meddling

Syria ‘de-escalation zone’ does nothing to stop civilian deaths

Is a demilitarised Palestinian state a viable option?

S&P affirms good Saudi credit ratings

Israel president faces big backlash over Palestinian scarf

Sudan leader to visit Russia Thursday

Seven years into Libya’s civil war, the chaos continues

Iraq top court declares Kurd referendum unconstitutional

Libya to investigate 'slave auction' footage

15 women killed in food aid crush in Morocco

Lebanon FM will not attend Arab League Iran summit

Syrian forces liberate Albu Kamal from IS

Israel votes to shut migrant centre, deport Africans

Diplomats from Iran, Russia, Turkey discuss Syria

Libya to investigate ‘slave auction’ footage

Piece by piece, Iran moves towards a ‘new empire’

Netanyahu faces new questioning over corruption case

Syria troops, allies retake most of Albu Kamal from IS

EU cuts funding to Turkey in 2018 budget

Lebanon's Hariri arrives in Paris

Egypt opens Gaza border for first time since unity deal

US-Russia rift threatens fragile prospects for Syria peace

'Caliphate' in tatters but IS still a threat

Saudi Arabia recalls ambassador to Berlin over Gabriel Lebanon comments

Russia again vetoes renewal of Syria gas attacks probe

UN weighs bid to save Syria gas attacks probe

IS attack kills 26 displaced people in Syria

Saudi FM says Lebanon 'held hostage by Hezbollah'

Egypt to open Rafah crossing for 3 days