Egypt’s interim prime minister yesterday condemned an attack outside a Coptic Christian church the night before that killed four people, including an eight-year-old girl, and pledged that police would find and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Attacks against Egypt’s Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the country’s 90 million strong population, have increased in the aftermath of the popularly backed July 3 coup that ousted the country’s Islamist president.
However, the attack late on Sunday was among the deadliest in weeks.
Two masked gunmen riding on a motorcycle opened fire at a wedding party in Cairo’s Waraa neighborhood as guests were leaving the Virgin Mary church, killing four people, including a woman and a little girl, said Khaled el-Khateeb, a senior health ministry official. The attack also wounded 17 people, he said.
Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi called the attack a “callous and criminal act,” and vowed that such assaults will “not succeed in sowing divisions between the nation’s Muslims and Christians.”
The top cleric at al-Azhar, the world’s primary seat of Sunni Islamic learning, also condemned the attack in a statement yesterday.
“It is a criminal act that runs contrary to both religion and morals,” Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb said.
Egypt’s Coptic Christians have long complained of discrimination by the country’s Muslim majority, and more recently, over what they see as the failure by the government to protect their churches against militant Muslims.
“What is happening is that all of Egypt is being targeted, not just the Christians,” said Father Dawoud, a priest at the Virgin Mary church.
The manner of Sunday’s attack harkens back to Egypt’s Islamist insurgency of the 1980s and 1990s, when militants attacked foreign tourists, Christians and senior government officials.
It is also the latest in a series of high-profile attacks blamed on Islamic militants in the country’s capital since the July ouster of former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi.
Islamic extremists are convinced that Christians played a significant role in the mass street protests that led to Morsi’s ouster. Their spiritual leader, Pope Tawadros II, has publicly supported the coup.
However, an association of Christian activists blamed the military-backed government of el-Beblawi for Sunday night’s attack, saying it has failed to protect churches since the August attacks south of the capital.
A Coptic youth group, known as The Association of Maspero Youth, also called for the dismissal of Egyptian Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, accusing him of “sponsoring” an April attack on the papal seat of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo.
In other developments, thousands of students from al-Azhar University staged a third day of protests yesterday, security sources said, in one of the boldest challenges to the army since it toppled Morsi.
The demonstrations demanding Morsi’s reinstatement are a delicate matter for the authorities because the administration at al-Azhar, the ancient seat of Sunni Muslim learning, has historically toed the government line.
The protests at al-Azhar campuses in Cairo and other cities are smaller than previous rallies against the army-backed government. Security sources said a total about 4,000 students were involved, of whom 44 had been arrested.
Additional reporting by Reuters