Monthly Archives: January 2011

>Samalout’s Copts seethe with anger following train shooting

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The smell of the gas could be recognized on the fourth floor of al-Rai al-Saleh hospital, where doors were firmly closed to prevent the smell from spreading into patients’ rooms.(Photo taken Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011)

By: Ahmed Zaki Osman 

Tight security reigned the streets in the Minya Governorate city of Samalout in Upper Egypt after night-long clashes between police and Coptic protestors. The clashes were triggered by the shooting of six Copts late Tuesday evening that left one Copt dead.

At least ten people were injured in clashes that broke out in front of al-Rai al-Saleh hospital in Samalout, where those injured in the shooting were being hospitalized, medical sources said.
Despite the fact that al-Rai al-Saleh hospital has the necessary medical facilities, a high ranking official at the Ministry of Health ordered to transfer five of the injured to Cairo, according to Samir Youssry, vice-president of the hospital.
Two of the five shot–Emily Hanna, 61, and Sabah Senot, 50–remain in a critical condition. “They are old and they were on operated immediately,” said Youssry.
The remaining three–Ehab Kemal and his fiancée Magy Nabil Zaki, along with Zaki’s sister Marianne Nabil Zaki–are in a stable condition, according to Youssry.
Around ten Coptic protestors were injured after police cracked down on the demonstration that was being staged in the hospital’s street.
“Seven are in critical condition. Four of them were badly beaten by the police. Two were having trouble breathing after inhaling tear gas. Another one was in a state of shock,” said Youssry.
A Coptic man who took part in Wednesday’s demonstration and who asked not to be identified for fear of police retaliation said those demonstrating had not intended to stage a protest. “We came to check on the people who were injured and the police violently prevented us from doing so. So, we staged a demonstration to defend our people.”
“I heard an officer calling the soldiers to beat us up,” the man added.
Windows on the fourth floor of the hospital were broken when tear gas was fired at the demonstration next to the hospital. The smell of the gas could be recognized on the fourth floor, where doors were firmly closed to prevent the smell from spreading into patients’ rooms.
A female worker at the hospital cried and shouted “Haram!” (meaning “forbidden”). “We have another celebration in the coming days. You should stay here because there will be another tragedy to cover,” she said.
Copts in the city linked the latest attack with the bombing of the Alexandria church which killed 23 people this New Year’s Eve.
Father Moussa Rafael, a priest at the Church of St. Mark in Samalout, which is adjacent to the hospital, said, “People are resentful. They have everyday evidence that they are targeted and the police deny this.”
“There is a wave of persecution of Copts and nobody is doing anything to stop it. We are confused. Are the police protecting us, or are they collaborating with the groups that are targeting Christians?” asked Rafael, who has been attending investigations carried out by the prosecution office in Samalout.
“Don’t say that the criminal was mentally sick,” he continued. “Marianne Nabil Zaki [one of the injured] said to the prosecutor that the gunman moved to and from his train car, checking faces. Then he said, ‘No God but Allah,’ and started shooting at innocent people. He did it on purpose, not randomly. If it is random you would see Muslims on the list of victims.”

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>Egypt’s prosecutors to investigate Islamist allegedly tortured to death

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By: Ahmed Zaki Osman

Alexandria–Egyptian authorities will investigate allegations that a Salafi preacher was tortured to death in Alexandria, 24 hours after being arrested by State Security Investigation officers for possible links with a suicide bombing that rocked a church in the coastal city, a lawyer said on Friday.

Two independent Egyptian news websites reported on Friday that 31-year-old Sayed Bilal was tortured to death on Wednesday before the police buried him “against the consent of his family” a day later. They said that several Salafi websites have circulated photos and videos of Bilal allegedly showing signs of torture and physical abuse.
Al-Masry Al-Youm could not independently verify the authenticity of the photos. The Interior Ministry could not be reached to comment on the allegations.
“Alexandria District Attorney Office ordered an investigation after Bilal’s family filed a complaint on Friday,” Lawyer Haitham Abu Khalil of Alexandria-based Dhahaya Center for Human Rights told Al-Masry Al-Youm.
Twenty three Coptic Christians were killed when a suicide bomber targeted the Church of St. Mark and St. Peter in Alexandria in Saturday’s New Year’s mass.
Alexandria is a stronghold of Salafis, who are blamed of inciting anti-Christian sentiments through religious sermons and television programs.  
Last week, authorities held 20 people for questioning over the bombing, security sources said.
Conflicting reports have circulated about the authenticity of a digitally reconstructed photo of a 25-year-old man who is thought to be behind the suicide attack.
Earlier this week, Egyptian authorities have hinted that al-Qaeda could be behind the attack, the deadliest against Copts in decades.  
Media outlets quoted security sources on Thursday as revealing that the culprit had used a 25-kilogram improvised explosive device (IED), which he possibly carried in a school bag.
On Wednesday, the ministry announced the discovery of an unidentified corpse which it suspects of belonging to the suicide bomber.
An Iraqi group linked to al-Qaeda threatened the Coptic Church in Egypt with attack in November and a statement on an Islamist website, posted about two weeks before the Alexandria bombing, urged Muslims to attack Coptic churches in Egypt and elsewhere.

>Egypt’s Copts chant sectarian slogans, reassert Christian pride

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Outside the St. Mark and St. Peter Church in Alex on Sunday 2 January, 2011

“With our soul and blood, we will defend our cross,” “The cross and the bible are everything,” “Jesus is Allah,” and “Jesus is the winner” counted among common slogans Copts sought to reassert pride in their Christian identities during Coptic demonstrations in the wake of New Year’s church bomb that killed 23.
On Saturday morning, while dead bodies were collected from the site of the attacks, Copts chanted “Kyrie Eleison,” Greek for “lord, have mercy.” The slogan was heard again during the burial ceremony in St. Mina Monastery. Sorrow, bitterness and anger mixed at a scene.
Yet, the words chanted by Alexandria’s Copts quickly merged with more politically pronounced slogans. According to Michel Shawky, a 29-year-old accountant, the slogans index the “suppression from which we suffer as well as the unfair treatment we face.”
“See what happens with perpetrators of attacks against Copts? They’re either unidentifiable or ‘mentally challenged.’ Even if they’re identified, like in the Nagaa Hammadi case, there’s no verdict one year later,” added Shawky.
Shawky, however, noted the relatively new use of such slogans in Alexandria; “I chanted them for the first time in the Cathedral of Abbasiya when we staged a demonstration asking for the release of Wafaa Constantine.”
Constantine is the wife of a Coptic priest who is rumored to have converted to Islam but was handed over to the control of her family.
She, in addition to Camellia Shehata, a wife of Coptic priest and alleged convert to Islam, were mentioned in the November statement by al-Qaeda in Iraq in which the terrorist group threatened to attack the Coptic church.
Politically piercing slogans have also been on the rise. “Oh Mubarak, the Copt’s heart burns in fire,” and “Oh Mubarak, the Copt’s blood is not cheap,” chanted Alexandria’s Copts during protests that have taken place since the Alexandria church attach on New Year’s Eve.
Coptic demonstrators criticized Alexandria’s political leadership, in particular the city’s governor Adel Labib.
“Get out Labib,” shouted demonstrators on Saturday’s burial ceremony at the Monastery of Mar Mina. Angry protesters attempted to prevent him from attending the funeral by blocking Labib’s motorcade.
“I don’t know why they said that. Maybe angry people saw Labib as a symbol for the regime so they attacked him,” said Nader Murkos, a counselor of Pope Shenouda III and member of the Alexandria Millet Council.
Pope Shenouda is still revered, as manifested by the chants. “We’re no longer afraid, even if they tie us with ropes, as long as [Shenouda] is our protector, we’ll remain strong,” chanted Copts in front of the Church of St. Mark and St. Peter, the site of Saturday’s bombing.
Few Coptic pleas for Western support were heard. “Where America is, so is terrorism,” was another slogan heard at the site.
In adjacent protests, staged by Muslims who reject terrorist attacks on their Christian brethren, the prevalent slogan was “the crescent will live on next to the cross.” Eslam Gaber, a young Muslim man who owns a computer coffee shop, stressed to Al-Masry Al-Youm that the slogan serves the cause of unity between Egyptians regardless of their religion. He said that before attending the demonstration, he donated blood for the attack’s victims.
But some Copts remain skeptical Muslim intentions. A Coptic man told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the security aparatus impelled Muslim protesters to stage the demonstrations in order to silence Christian voices.
“The security hires people to chant ‘the crescent will live on next to the cross.’ They even want to silence a small protest by Copts deeply sad for losing their relatives and families,” said Dawoud Said, a retired Coptic state employee.
Saeed said that Copts remain unmoved by such slogans. The slogan, according to Saeed, will not give Copts their rights.
For Nabil Abdel Fattah of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, the slogans strengthen the Coptic cause. “Copts are angry because of discrimination against them and deprivation from political representation.”
But Abdel Fattah does not think politicized slogans are indicative of Copts shying away from their leadership’s traditional absence from politics. “The slogans emphasize the particularity of the Coptic condition, where they claim that they are unified under the leadership of Pope Shenouda,” he said.