Tragic Church Fire in Egypt Highlights Coptic Christian Struggle

“I feel they are all inside this room now, we will go home together,” he added, pointing to the funeral room, where the mourners came to offer their condolences.

Atef remembers that on the very day of the tragedy, his mother woke him up to go with her to Sunday mass. “I don’t go to church regularly.

“The day before [the fire], we had a family reunion, now I understand it was just a goodbye,” Magda’s sister Mariam told The Tablet. “I remember how happy my niece, Ereeny, was when her two daughters were accepted into a good Catholic school. They were supposed to go to school next month, but now they’ve all disappeared.

Others had similar heartbreaking stories of the loss of children in the deadly fire.

A day later, local media published a tragic video of a mother who lost her 5-year-old triplets – Mehrael, Yousef and Philopater. Standing by the coffins of her children, raising her hand with a “three” sign, she cried, “I lost them all. Why?”

Ironically, the tragedy came on the anniversary of the dispersal of the Islamists’ sit-in after Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood Islamist group was ousted from power on July 3, 2013. It was then that millions of Egyptians protested against the regime of President Mohamed Morsi. – a prominent figure in the Muslim Brotherhood group – demanding that he leave power.

On August 14, 2013, Islamists attacked and burned down 76 churches across Egypt as security forces moved to disperse the Muslim Brotherhood sit-in in Rabaa Square in the city of Nasr, along with another sit-in -in located in Nahda Square, Giza.

Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and some other Islamist groups blame Coptic Christians for protesting against Morsi, who was ousted by the Egyptian army.

Two days after the fire, the Anba Bishoy church in Minya was badly damaged by a mysterious fire that broke out in a closed room where 250 children, gathered for summer activities, had left minutes earlier. There were no fatalities.

According to Interior Ministry officials, the Anba Bishoy fire was blamed on an electrical short circuit, but some observers have doubted this conclusion. The two fires in quick succession have led some government critics to wonder if extremists might be behind the blazes.

Others have blamed the incidents on the discrimination Coptic Christians face whether they are trying to build a new church or rebuild an existing one. The Martyr Abu Sefein Church is located in a very narrow street; it was built as a residential building without security codes in an effort to circumvent restrictions imposed by local authorities to prevent the construction of churches.

In secret, Christians used to convert residential buildings into places of worship, not only because of the restrictions imposed by the authorities on the construction of new churches, but also out of fear of the Islamists, who in many cases resort to violence to stop construction.

In a phone call with a local TV station, Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II said Martyr Abu Sefein Church, like many others, is too small for the number of worshipers it serves and urged the authorities to authorize the construction of more churches.

“In Egypt, major disasters hit the poor the hardest. Egypt is a very racist country… Muslims are safer than Copts, and men are safer than women and children, while the most vulnerable among Egyptians are those poor Coptic women and children, this happened in this poor church,” Mohamed Abou El-Ghar, leader of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, wrote on his Facebook account on August 15.

Abou El-Ghar criticized the discriminatory and bureaucratic obstacles that prevent the construction of safe churches and called for more equality.

“The constitution clearly states that all Egyptians are equal, which means that Christians have the same rights as Muslims, and because Muslims build their mosques without problems, churches must also be built without problems,” El said. -Ghar.

Robert M. Larson