More than 150 people, many of them minors, (were jailed) following the November 24th clashes between Egyptian security forces and Coptic Christians protesting the block on construction of their new church near Giza. Security forces opened fire on the unarmed crowd, killing three people and injuring dozens. A four year old child died after suffocating from tear gas.
Fr. Rafic Greische is the director of communications for the Catholic Church in Egypt. Speaking from Cairo, he told Tracey McClure that Copts and Muslims have organized small protests calling for the release of the many children who were among those arrested.
Besides the Giza tensions, Fr. Rafic speaks of growing unease of Egypt’s Christians after the October attack by Islamic extremists on a Syriac Catholic church in Baghdad, Iraq – killing 58 people and wounding scores.
The terrorists were demanding the release of two Christian Egyptian women whom they alleged had converted to Islam. Fr. Rafic suggests the women, married to Coptic priests in Egypt, had left their husbands over domestic troubles and were now too afraid of public reaction to come out of hiding.
RG “There is really a problem for people who want to change their religion – and that is where the Muslim fundamentalists become violent and make demonstrations. They threw the picture of (Coptic) Pope (Shenouda) on the ground and burned it...these things increase the tension in Egypt.”
“I think (these terrorists) used these two girls just maybe to make the Christians of Egypt afraid. That is why now all the churches, we have police all around our churches… it’s as if we are in a fortress.”
Fr. Rafic goes on to say he thinks the terrorists targeted a Catholic church in Baghdad “in response to what was said in the (October) synod for the Middle East.”
He added: “This is what the Muslim fundamentalists want: they want the Christians to evacuate from the Middle East and leave (the region to them). And this is what is happening every day… and the governments do not take serious action to relieve or solve these problems.”
Fr. Rafic speaks of a “double standard” in Egypt where obstacles to church-building can mean a wait of ten years or more for a new church while a room used for improvised prayer can be turned into a mosque over night.
In sum, not the merry Christmas that many of Egypt’s Christians were wishing for this year. He concluded by: “Up to now, we don’t really feel Christmas in the joyful way…people (seem) afraid to jubilate…. But on the spiritual side, we try to give the people hope that Christmas is really Jesus who is with us (through) all these difficulties that we have.”