A Melbourne vicar has criticised Egyptian authorities for failing to protect Christians only weeks before protests threatened to end the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak.
The Revd Dr Mark Durie of St Mary’s Caulfield, who has written extensively on Christian-Muslim relations and religious freedom, wrote in his parish blog on 4 January that he deplored “the lack of freedom of religion in Egypt, the authorities’ apparent unwillingness to protect the indigenous Christian minority and its places of worship, and the lamentable track record of the Egyptian justice system in securing criminal convictions against those who have targeted Christians for attack”.
Dr Durie’s comments followed the attack on the Church of St Mark and St Peter in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve that left 23 people dead and more than 90 people injured. It was the worst episode of sectarian violence in Egypt in a decade.
“Although this latest attack has been denounced by Egyptian authorities, it has taken place in a climate of growing official discrimination against the Christians of Egypt, including against converts to Christianity,” he wrote.
“The Copts are the direct continuation of the indigenous Christian community in Egypt, founded by St Mark. They have maintained a faithful witness to Apostolic Faith in Christ through two thousand years of trials and persecution. I am confident that this latest attack will not shake their will to maintain this witness in their ancestral land.”
An Ecumenical Prayer Service was held at St Paul’s Cathedral on 7 January for victims of the Alexandria attack, followed by a demonstration outside the Egyptian Consulate in Market Street, Melbourne.
A statement by Bishop Suriel of the Coptic Orthodox Melbourne Diocese said the attack “follows a long and shameful list of the most heinous crimes committed against the Copts in the last decade”.
“The pattern is very clear and amounts to what can only be described as genocide against a peaceful and God-fearing people,” Bishop Suriel said. “This has been a particularly sorrowful bereavement for our own congregation here in Melbourne, some of which have lost relatives in the massacre.
“We pray for our Christian brothers and sisters in Egypt and the Middle East, who are suffering many persecutions, and who should have the right to worship God in the safe sanctuary of our churches without fear of persecution or deadly attacks.”
The Anglican Communion News Service reported on 4 January that the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, Dr Mouneer Hanna Anis, had said that all Anglican churches in Egypt were having to strengthen their security measures following the Alexandria bombing.
“It is very clear from the nature of this attack that it was planned by Al Qaeda, especially after the threats that were made against Egypt after the attacks on the church in Baghdad on 31 October 2010,” Bishop Anis said.
“We are currently cooperating with the Egyptian Security to improve the security measures of all our churches in Egypt. This will involve creating security barriers and security cameras. We are not used to such measures, but we have been requested to do this.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said the attack was “yet another dreadful reminder of the pressure Christian minorities are under in the Middle East, echoing the atrocities we have seen in recent weeks”.
“The Coptic community and other Christian groups in Egypt can be sure of our deep sorrow at this terrible event and our continuing prayers and support for them. We know the long and honourable history of co-existence of Christians and Muslims in Egypt and are confident that the overwhelming majority of Egyptian people will join in condemning this and similar acts.”
Barnabas Fund, which seeks to support Christian communities around the world facing poverty and persecution, welcomed moves by the European Parliament and United States Congress to respond to the persecution of Christians around the world.
Members of the European Parliament adopted a resolution on 20 January condemning the recent attacks in Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Cyprus, Iran and Iraq, while the US Congress heard from Iraqi and Egyptian Christians about the dangers and difficulties facing their countries’ believers.