Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Christian congregations in Minya cancel Christmas celebrations after murder of two policemen

A policeman was killed instantly when he in vain tried to defuse an Improvised Explosive Device. Three other were wounded by the explosion. (Photo: Aswat Masriya).

Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant congregations in Minya on Tuesday announced the cancelation of Wednesday’s Christmas celebrations in solidarity with the families of the two policemen who died earlier on Tuesday morning while protecting a church in Minya. In a statement they offered condolences to families of the Tuesday’s victims, as well as “the families of all police martyrs in the country.”
Unidentified gunmen shot the officers while they were guarding the Church of the Virgin Mary. General Osama Metwally, the security director in Minya, told the privately owned newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm (AMAY) that a state of emergency was declared in the city. Security forces are currently investigated the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the two policemen.
The attack came on Coptic Christmas Eve.
 The holidays had prompted heightened security around churches. Metwally told AMAY that security around churches would be increased as a result of the attack.
Several incidents of sectarian violence against Coptic Egyptians have occurred in Minya in recent years.
In August 2013, the privately owned news agency ONA reported that Muslims attacked the houses of Christians with Molotov cocktails when they heard of plans to turn one of the houses into a church. According to the state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram, the clashes broke out because of an argument between a Muslim and a Christian farmer.
Ishaq Ibrahim, a researcher on Coptic issues at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), stated that Tuesday’s attack was related to earlier incidents that followed the deadly dispersal of the Rabea al-Adaweya sit-in that claimed more than 1,000  lives in August 2013.
"It's a message to Coptic Christians. The first time [an attack like this] happened in Upper Egypt was after August 14, 2013. After August, the atmosphere became calm, and this is the first time they attacked the church, to make Copts remember what happened. However, we do not know if they wanted to attack the church or the police working in front of the church," he said.
Following former President Mohamed Morsi's ouster and the subsequent sit-in dispersal, Minya witnessed a wave of violence against Coptic Christians. Churches and Christian residences were burned; a fact-finding mission in September 2013 found that at least 27 houses were vandalized and 62 families were displaced during the clashes. AMAY also reported that at least 30 churches were burned in Minya in 2013.
In 2009, EIPR singled out Minya as hotspot for sectarian-based violence. According to the group's report, disputes between Christians and Muslim about the building of churches and other matters could quickly turn into incidents of mob violence.  
Attacks on Coptic Christians are not limited to Minya, however. In October 2013, there was a drive-by shooting in front of the Church of the Virgin in the Cairo district of Gezira al-Warraq. The shooters killed four people, including two children aged eight and 12. Eighteen others were injured.

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