Failed tactics of ISIS in Cairo church attack

Public demonstrations of sympa­thy for Coptic Christians testi­fy to ISIS’s failure to sow tension between Muslims and Christians.

Egyptian Muslims and Christians hold lighted candles in Cairo, following a deadly explosion inside a Coptic cathedral in Cairo, Egypt, December 14th, 2016. (Reuters)

2017/01/08 Issue: 88 Page: 11

The Arab Weekly
Amr Emam

Cairo - A bomb attack on a Cairo church has seemingly united, instead of di­vided, Christians and Muslims in Egypt.

“Nobody can break the people of this country,” said Kamal Zakhir, a Christian writer. “Those who at­tacked the church wanted to scare the Christians and sow the seeds of division between them and their Muslim compatriots but they failed.”

The December 11th attack, car­ried out by a suicide bomber affili­ated with the Islamic State (ISIS), killed 26 Coptic Christians, in­cluding two children, and injured scores of others injured.

The attack was seen by some as a personal affront to Egyptian Presi­dent Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has taken responsibility for defending Coptic Christians, almost 12% of the population of 92 million.

Public demonstrations of sympa­thy for the Coptic Christians testi­fied to ISIS’s failure to sow tension between Muslims and Christians.

When a Muslim preacher went to the mourning ceremony for one of the church attack victims, relatives of the victim asked him to read out verses from the Quran.

The family of another victim and that of a Muslim policeman killed in an attack on a police checkpoint in Giza province two days earlier had a joint mourning ceremony during which verses from the Bible and the Quran were read.

Social media users shared a pho­to of two Christian priests sweep­ing the floor outside a mosque in Cairo as Muslim worshippers ex­ited the mosque.

Many veiled Muslim women were seen at the funerals of church-bombing victims, grieving the dead just like their Christian relatives did for theirs.

“Egyptians are certain that the church attack did not target Chris­tians alone but the whole of Egypt,” said Nadia Radwan, a researcher from the state-run National Center for Sociological and Criminologi­cal Research. “This is why they are keen to demonstrate unity.”

This seems, however, to be more than just a momentary desire by the Muslim majority to visibly em­pathise with Christian compatriots.

Before New Year’s celebrations, some Salafist and fundamental­ist preachers advised Muslims not to participate in the festive mood. Some told Muslims not to congrat­ulate Christians on Christmas.

Nonetheless, hours before the clocks chimed 12 on December 31st, large numbers of Egyptians went to streets to mark the end of 2016 and welcome 2017.

Santa Claus costumes sold brisk­ly in shops nationwide, sweets and coffee shops and restaurants made record profits and fireworks were heard across the country, especial­ly near the Giza pyramids where the official New Year welcome was made.

Egypt’s Orthodox Christians cel­ebrated Christmas on January 7th and there had been speculation fol­lowing the church attack that the celebrations would be called off.

On January 6th, however, the Christians had Christmas mass at the Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, the seat of the Coptic pope and a few metres from the church where the December 11th attack took place.

The midnight mass, which was attended by Sisi, defied ISIS’s threat after the attack that it would con­tinue to target Egypt’s Christians.

“Why should we be broken?” asked Samir Morqos, a former presidential adviser and Coptic Christian intellectual. “The terror­ists target Christians because they are Egyptians, not because they are the followers of Jesus Christ. They want to bring Egypt down, some­thing we and Muslims will fight against.”

Amr Emam is a Cairo-based journalist. He has contributed to the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and the UN news site IRIN.

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