Cairo (AsiaNews) – Holy Week in Egypt has been marred by attacks against the country’s Coptic community. The Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the bombings in Tanta and Alexandria. Some 45 people were killed and hundreds wounded.
Yet, the “situation is calm for now. People are flocking to the churches, and won’t let themselves be intimidated. There is no climate of fear but there is widespread concern,” said Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Church.
Indeed, "Christians are not intimidated,” he noted. “Even so, we decided to cancel the activities associated with the celebrations. “Liturgical functions and services for Easter will go ahead as planned. Other public events and activities, like receptions for lawmakers and government officials, have been cancelled out of respect for the victims.”
Armed police guard the entrance to St Mark's Church with an imposing security ring to filter people trying to enter the building for Mass, with only regular worshippers allowed in.
In every city, churches and other Christian places of worship are closely guarded. However, some diocese, especially in Upper Egypt, have cancelled celebrations. Services will be limited to "simple prayers”, organisers said. A mix of fear, pain, grief and distrust of the authorities prevails in many communities.
Yesterday evening, the Egyptian Interior Ministry announced that it had identified the suicide bomber who blew himself up last Sunday at the Mar Girgis Church in Tanta, northern Egypt, killing 28 people.
The suicide bomber’s name is Mamdouh Mohamed Amin Baghdadi, born in 1977 in Qena, Upper Egypt where he lived. He was a "cadre" in a terrorist cell; three other members were arrested.
The authorities had already identified the suicide bomber who blew himself up in Alexandria’s St Mark’s Cathedral, seat of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, killing 17. Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II was in the building at the time. This is the second attempt at his life after the Cairo attack in December.
During his visit to Coptic Pope Tawadros II on Thursday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi pledged to hunt down the perpetrators of last week's twin church bombings, his office said.
Sisi said that "state agencies were exerting their utmost effort to chase down the perpetrators of those vile acts". In the meantime, he declared a three-month state of emergency and called on the army to protect "vital" installations around the country.
"Christians are not scared,” Fr Greiche said. “We are accustomed to violence, and we live with our martyrs. There is no fear, but some concern about what will happen if things escalate.”
In fact, for many, the latest attacks have revived the idea of emigration, especially "among the more affluent Christians", middle and upper class families who can "afford a different choice."
The Egyptian government "is doing its best," said the Catholic Church spokesman, "but guarding churches and places of worship with soldiers and police is not enough. We must do more to prevent terrorism, and, in this context, intelligence work is crucial. Only then will we prevent new attacks."
In addition to Easter, Egypt’s Christian communities are also concerned about the upcoming visit of Pope Francis to Egypt on 28-29 April, which the Vatican confirmed in spite of the attacks.
Organisers are vetting security measures for the pope and the faithful. “People are worried, but still happy that they will be able to see the pope close-up".
"At this time, we are preparing to celebrate the death and resurrection of the Lord,” Fr Greiche said. “For this reason, we must maintain a strong faith. After a dark period, there is always new life. We should not be afraid but always be ready."
"For the faithful, it is natural to be stronger than fear,” he added. “Christians in the West and in the rest of world should come to Egypt, as pilgrims and tourists, to support us and make us feel your closeness." (DS)