On New Year’s Day, a bomb was detonated outside the Church of the Two Saints in Alexandria as worshippers were leaving midnight mass. Twenty-three Christians were killed and at least ninety were wounded in the worst attack against the country’s Christians in recent memory. The explosion ripped through the crowd leaving the church’s entrance-way covered with blood, bodies and severed limbs (see video below).
Days after the bombing, Coptic Christians took to the streets in protests which some believe helped ignite the fervor of Egypt’s January 25 revolution. “This was the most powerful protest that Christian Copts ever held in recent history,” said a Coptic human rights activist. “It went three days and inspired the 25th youth movement. We wanted to end a life under dictatorship, and we were not alone in our aspirations.”
However, details on how the attack was carried out remained disputed. Immediately after the bombing, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced that it was the work of the Army of Islam, an Al-Qaeda affiliated Palestinian network. Mubarak’s accusations ignited further Coptic frustration from those who believed that the attack was executed by Egyptians and that Mubarak was trying to avoid confrontation with internal Islamic terrorism targeting Christians.
Mubarak’s disregard was nothing new for Copts who had experienced considerable persecution the past year. Murders have been accompanied by anti-Christian propaganda in Egyptian media, acquittals of Muslim offenders who initiated anti-Christian attacks, the inability of Christians to build churches without special government authorization, and the lack of basic freedoms for Christian converts from Islam. Marginalized by the government, Christians were left helplessly exposed. It came as no surprise that Christian frustrations boiled over in January.
“We have suffered a lot as Christians,” said the same activist. “We’ve seen churches being bombed, innocent people being killed, girls being kidnapped, and the spread of Islamization against our will. We want to get rid of the dictatorship that we have been living under for over thirty years.”
The New Years Eve bombing led many Christians to participate in Egypt’s revolution to demand the end of oppression under Mubarak’s dictatorship and the beginning of religious freedom. However, there is grave concern among Egypt’s Christians that persecution could potentially increase if free elections give power to the Muslim Brotherhood.
“If the Muslim Brotherhood were to take over, it would not only be dangerous for the Christians in Egypt, but for the whole world,” said Magdi Khalil, Director of the Middle East Freedom Forum. “It means the entire Middle East will be an Islamic Middle East. Egypt is the key state. We must support the secular approach and rewrite the constitution to be a secular constitution.”
While Egypt and its Christians sit on the brim of uncertainty, Christians around the world ought to be careful in fully embracing revolutions that could lead to greater influence for radical Islam. Yet, who can blame Egyptian Christians for demanding the end of tyranny and hoping for a better future?
“We are seeking freedom, we are seeking democracy. No one can live without freedom. Freedom is life.”