The funeral service for four Copts killed on Friday evening during the attack against the Copts of the northeast Cairo district of Khusous, was held at noon today at St Mark’s cathedral in Abassiya, Cairo, amid searing pain, grief, and bitterness on the part of the Copts.
The Muslim who lost his life in the Khusous violence, Mohamed Mahoud, 18, was buried in his hometown of Aswan yesterday.
Presiding over today’s funeral was Anba Boutros, Bishop General of Shibeen al-Qanater; and participating were a number of bishops and priests, among whom was Anba Moussa, Bishop of Youth; and Anba Raphael, head of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Several public figures, politicians, and rights activists attended.
The family members of the victims held banners on which they wrote: “The responsibility for the death of our people lies squarely on the shoulders of [President] Mursi,” and “No for the hatred propagated against Copts”. Several times the service was interrupted with angry cheers against Mursi and his regime.
The coffins carried the bodies of Morqos Kamal Mitry, 25; Victor Saad Manqarious, 35; Marzouq Attiya Nessim, 45; Essam Zakhary, 37.
Sensing the deep wrath and bitterness of the congregation, Anba Raphail asked them to repeat the recital of the creed, which they unanimously did. The loud, collective declaration of the Christian creed served to give a respite to the overflowing expression of grief. Anba Raphail the proceeded to deliver his sermon.
“This is not the first time we gather to pay last respects to beloved ones who lost their lives in such terrible events,” he said, “We wish, however, to convey three messages. The first is to the Heaven in whose justice we believe. Jesus Christ taught us that no blood goes unanswered for before God. The second we say to Egypt: we will not leave. We will remain here in our land. The third message is to us, Egypt’s Christians: We will never forsake our faith. Bloodshed urges us to adhere more to the teachings of the Bible, to love all.”
No end to the violence?
Once the funeral was over and the congregation began spilling out of the cathedral, they found themselves under attacked by unknown assailants who threw stones at them and hurled Molotov bottles at the cathedral. The Copts were forced to go back into the cathedral grounds and shut the gates for safety, but this was only a safety of sorts, since the assailants continued to target them with Molotovs and gunfire which they shot from the roofs of neighbouring buildings. Several climbed the top of the cathedral walls and shot at the Copts inside.
An Interior Ministry source accused the Copts of having started the violence, and said that the locals answered back in counter-violence. The Copts say this does not make sense since they had been leaving the cathedral to head to the cemetery to bury their dead, an act which they must traditionally complete before sundown.
The attack against the cathedral has been lasting for more than five hours; Coptic eyewitnesses insist they were being attacked by Muslim Brotherhood militias and hooligans. The security forces came in but, according to eyewitnesses, did nothing to disperse the attackers or to stop the attack. Instead, they fired tear gas canisters into the cathedral grounds where the terrorised Copts had taken refuge. Some 25 Copts were injured, while no injuries occurred among the attackers outside the cathedral.
In the meantime, the Copts in Khusous were again under attack. The Mar-Girgis church and the Copts who were going in and out of it were targeted with stones and gunfire. The Copts, who have lost all hope that the security forces will protect them, have been sending out frantic calls for the army to defend them.
The Khusous attack against the Copts began on Friday evening, and no one knows for sure how it all started. Eyewitnesses in Khusous have different stories to tell.
One story goes that the violence started in the wake of an argument between the members of a Muslim family and others of a Coptic one. The Coptic family is well-respected; one of their sons, Iskandar Ayad Iskandar who owns a house in Khusous is a former MP. The Iskandars live in an area of heavy Salafi presence, and the Salafis have been known to harass the Coptic women—among whom there were members of the Iskandar family—whom they insist are indecent because they are not veiled. The harassment incidents led to skirmishes between the Iskandars and the Salafis, which were contained by the local police. But the Salafis threatened they would retaliate by attacking the Copts’ homes and their church.
The second story says that yesterday’s violent attack was the outcome of Salafi harassment of Coptic women, while a third story goes that it was because of graffiti on the local mosque’s exterior walls. According to Major General Mahmoud Yusri, director of Qalyubiya Security, two Muslim boys wrote their names and drew swaztikas on the mosque walls. A worshipper who was leaving the mosque thought this was a cross and reprimanded the boys as a Copt, identified by Major-General Yusri as one ‘Milad’, passed by. Milad denounced the swastika and insisted it was not a Christian symbol; an argument that probably involved religions ensued; other passersby joined in; and the matter escalated into a street fight then into a wider, more violent assault.
The wide scale violence against the Copts came in response to a call through a mosque microphone to “purge the area of the ‘unclean’ Christians”. The Muslims marched against the Mar-Girgis (St George) church, while the Copts surrounded their church and placed iron barriers around it for protection. The Muslims shot at the Copts who fired back. The police only arrived more than an hour later, leading to bitter allegations by the Copts that the police or security forces were not serious in protecting them.
Fr Sourial met with the elders of Khusous, with whom he enjoys excellent relations, to attempt to contain the matter, stressing that the Church was not party to the fight which brought on all the violence. But, at the same time, there were loud calls by extremist Muslims to attack the Copts, amid calls of “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is the Greatest).
Coptic-owned houses and shops were attacked, looted, and burned. The Copts kept to their homes in terror; they cut off their power supply and made sure they had water and fire extinguishers on hand to put out any fires.
A few minutes ago, the Coptic Orthodox Church issued a statement signed by Anba Moussa, in which it said that Pope Tawadros II, who was in Alexandria, was closely following on the matter, and was in constant contact with the bishops and clergy, and with the Interior Minister.
The Council of Egypt’s Churches also issued a statement warning that attacking places of worship was a red line which should never be crossed. They called upon the authorities to take immediate action to stop the attack against the Coptic Orthodox cathedral.
Reported by Nader Shukry, Nasser Sobhy, Mariam Rifaat, Nadia Barsoum, Michael Victor
Photos by Nasser Sobhy
7 April 2013