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January 13, 2011

Alexandria's bombing

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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(Cairo) The bombing near a church in Alexandria on New Year's Eve, local time, was sad news, which affected me personally. First, I was in the area 72 hours before the bombing touring the city with my family from Canada; remembering the summer days I used to spend at its beaches when I was a teenager. Secondly, I was born and raised in Cairo's district of Shubra (was in the news following the bombing) where the highest concentration of Christian Copts live.

In Shubra, our family doctor, many of my teachers, the corner storeowner, and many of our neighbors and friends were Copts.  

The corner storeowner, Amo Foud (uncle Foud), was very special to us as kids. Whenever we ran out of our weekly allowance, Amo Foud would get my mother’s permission to give us what we needed to be deducted from our next week’s allowance.

I was older than his son Faris by a couple of years, but Amo Foud used to treat me like his oldest son and encourage Faris to follow in my footsteps, as if I was his "older brother," and try to be first in his class at school. Faris and I also used to exchange sweets and cookies on our religious holidays.

We used to call Coptic priests with respect as Abouna – Father exactly as Copts call them. In high school Muslim boys and girls used to wear the cross sometimes to impress the Copts of the other sex.

The victims of the Alexandria bombing were mainly Copts, but many Muslims were also killed and wounded, including some of the police officers protecting the church that night.

With the acceptance and tolerance of Christian Copts by their Egyptian Muslim brothers and sisters, the Christian Copts have flourished economically.

The richest family in Egypt is Christian Copt, making use of the 80 million Muslim consumers of Egypt. The most influential minister of the current government (the finance minister) is a Christian Copt. The gold trade is dominated by Christian Copts, as is the drug store market. Christian Copts are well represented in the government, parliament, army, police and other profession specially medicine. In the past they have held the position of prime minster and political party leaders and many of them were and still are popular movie stars, directors and writers.

Egypt’s Muslims and Copts have no problems in treating each other with respect and acceptance even care and love. Egypt’s Muslims and Copts have problems with their government – all solvable if there is a political will. But sadly there is no political leadership in the country.

For the last week, the streets of Shubra where my family still lives, had thousands of protesters, both Muslims and Copts, to denounce the Alexandria church bombing. During the Coptic Christmas mid night mass on the sixth of January, many Muslims offered to build a human shield around the Church of Virgin (the biggest church in Shubra, and one of the oldest in Cairo) but police did not give them permission. Instead many of them attended the service.

Shubra's protesters, Muslims and Copts, demanded the dismissal of the Minister of Interior, the Governor of Alexandria, and Alexandria's Head of Police Security. Police treated Muslim protesters harshly but not Copts. One Muslim protester said such practice by the police might lead to future friction between Muslims and Christian Copts.

The Muslim “We are all Copts” movement called for any political demands by Copts, such as the ratification of a unified law for constructing places of worship, to be resolved sooner than later.

Coptic priests echoed a call made by Pope Shenouda III, during an interview on Egyptian television, for protesters to refrain from violence.

But all Egyptians rejected the Catholic Pope's call to "protect" Middle Eastern Christians. It was a politically charged call based on ignorance and racism.

Fearing he would be charged with anti-Semitism, the Pope never said a word about Israel’s daily ethnic cleanses of the Occupied West Bank, including Occupied East Jerusalem, from its Christian population replacing them with Jewish-only settlers.

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