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Alexandria attack: A view from within

Along with a call to the government to find a new approach, the Coptic Church needs a new way of dealing and reacting to these attacks.

Last modified: 4 Jan 2011 00:53
picture from AFP

At 10pm local Cairo time on New Years Eve I was arguing with an Egyptian police officer outside a Coptic Church in the capital. Security was tighter than I have ever seen (I’ve been going to the same church when in Cairo at new years for 29 years).

Police would not allow us to park or even stop our car near the church nor enter without going through a scanner and security check.

The result was hundreds of people standing outside the church complaining about how we have got to the point in Egypt when Coptic Christians – 8 million Egyptians – have to be body checked before going in to pray.

Less than three hours later Egypt’s second largest city known for its concentration of Copts, witnessed one of the worst tragedies in Coptic history.

A 'turning point'

The Coptic Church has called this event a "turning point."  What they mean is the type and perpetrators of the attack – the possible foreign link and the fact the government say this was a suicide attack.

They have called on the government to find a new approach to deal with this new threat in order to protect Copts. Unofficially the Church is seeking answers as to why the government failed to gather intelligence and predict this event, given that in October a specific threat was made against their community.

But along with a call to the government to find a new approach, the Coptic Church needs a new way of dealing and reacting to these attacks.....This also needs to be a "turning point" for the Church.

The Coptic Church & the Media machine

In dealing with the media, the Coptic church has traditionally been insular and quiet – preferring to say nothing rather than risk upsetting the delicate sectarian balance and relationship with the Egyptian state.  The approach to ‘turn the other cheek’ though is often presented though as the Church being secretive and afraid by the world's media.

The approach will no longer protect the community nor serve to maintain the peace with the Muslim majority in Egypt.

It took over 12 hours after 19 people were killed for the Church to make any kind of statement.  The funerals took place in secret leaving the media to scramble to find where and when the services were happening (using facebook and twitter rather than an official source).

The Church has still not released the names of those who died (we don't even have a body count from them)  – leaving reports on news channels impersonal. 

Those who died became a number but had the Church told us brothers and sisters were killed, children, grandmothers dressed in their best clothes to usher in the new year in the safety of their church – reports would have been stronger, there could have been more outrage from the outside and therefore more pressure on government to ensure this lapse in intelligence never happens again. 

On new year's eve a Coptic man was walking into the saints church in Alexandria with his parents when he remembered he forgot his jacket – as he went to get it the explosion happened, killing his parents right in front of him. I know this story not from the news but from personal connection – why don't more people know that story?

The Coptic Church is one of the oldest in Christianity but it is a baby when it comes to dealing with the media or reacting to a threat like the one they face today. 

The community is in shock; every Copt is talking about the bombing with emotion that surpasses anything I've witnessed.  It's understandable; people stand still when they are in shock but Church leaders cannot be paralysed.

Two days after this tragedy you are hard pressed to find an international media outlet still carrying the story.
The Church are allowing people around the world to forget an event their community will take many years to heal from.