Egypt’s Copts tone down Easter plans after bombings

Persecution | The government has responded to the Palm Sunday attacks by reinforcing security
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 4/13/17, 11:17 am

Egypt’s Coptic churches have said they would cut down on their usual Easter celebrations following the Islamic State (ISIS) twin church bombings on Sunday that killed at least 45 people and injured more than 100 others. The announcement came as the Egyptian government stepped up security efforts at churches before Easter Sunday.

Egypt’s Coptic Church on Wednesday said the church would omit its usual Easter traditions this year to grieve with its members.

“Given the current circumstances and our solidarity with the families of the dead, we are going to limit our celebrations to Easter Mass,” a statement from the church said. The church won’t put up any decorations or open the room where the congregation usually gathers to exchange greetings. It also canceled a tradition where Pope Tawadros hands out sweets to children before Easter mass.

A day earlier on Tuesday, the Coptic diocese in the southern town of Minya announced it would limit its Easter celebrations to liturgical prayers. Minya is home to the country’s highest Coptic population.

The deadly explosions in two Coptic churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria happened as the Christians gathered for Palm Sunday mass, despite some security presence.

“No security measure can stop a suicide bomber with jihadist beliefs from blowing up a church,” said Emad Thomas, who is a Coptic. “Egypt’s Copts put their trust in God and not in security measures.”

Since the attacks, the government has made several moves to restore a sense of security, especially before Easter Sunday. High-level officials positioned themselves outside St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo searched cars and scanned the area. The government also placed a military tank with five soldiers outside St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in downtown Cairo. Military officials said troops began street patrols in the southern city of Assiut and would assume their stations before Sunday.

In a Wednesday statement, Egypt’s Ministry of Interior identified the St. Mark’s church bomber as 30-year-old Mahmoud Hassan Mubarak Abdallah. The ministry said Abdallah was an associate of Amr Saad Abbas Ibrahim, who led the terrorist cell that staged the December bombing of another church in Cairo. Egypt’s cabinet also approved a three-month state of emergency that would allow security officials to monitor and hastily prosecute terror suspects.

George Gad, a 58-year-old mechanical engineer, told the Los Angeles Times his sister survived the Alexandria terror attack and he attended the Monday funeral for the victims. Gad said the state of emergency offers little reassurance.

“It would not help,” he said. “I would love for my sons to leave the country.”

London-based Menas Associates said in its politics and security report on Egypt that the latest attacks could prompt Egyptian Christians to consider leaving the country. Menas acknowledged the Egyptian government’s efforts to beef up security around churches in the country. But the heightened attacks from ISIS signal the need for Egypt to confront its counterinsurgency approach, the group said.

“The use of heavy handed force over intelligence needs to be rethought,” the report said.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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