Synod of the Nile Moderator declares ‘unity and solidarity with the Coptic Orthodox Church’
(By Michael Parker, Special to the Presbyterian News Service). CAIRO, Egypt – Two Coptic Orthodox churches were the subject of suicide bombings on Palm Sunday, April 9, killing 44 and wounding 126. The first attack occurred at St. George Coptic Orthodox Church in Tanta, about 50 miles north of Cairo. The second occurred at St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria, on the Mediterranean coast. Sometime after the Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attacks, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi responded by declaring a three-month state of emergency.
At the church in Tanta, the bomber managed to elude security and enter the church. He blew himself up near the altar, killing 27 and injuring 78. Two hours later, the second attack occurred in Alexandria at the cathedral, where Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros had recently departed. The suicide bomber attempted to bypass the metal detector at the gate to the church but security stopped him. When they asked him to proceed through the sensor, he set off the bomb that lay beneath his jacket, killing 17 and injuring 48.
Security officials later also found bombs planted at the Sidi Abdel Rahim Mosque in Tanta and at the Collège St. Marc, an all-male French Roman Catholic school in Alexandria.
In response to a reporter’s question Dr. Andrea Zaki, President of the Protestant Council of Egypt, explained, “The terrorist are trying to hit Egypt, but we are maintaining unity and solidarity in our country and nothing will stop us from standing [in loyalty] with our nation.” He then observed that the Evangelical Presbyterian Church had opened the American Hospital in Tanta to the government for the care of the wounded.
Reda Adly, Moderator of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Egypt, commonly known as the Synod of the Nile, spoke on behalf of his church through social media, writing, “I declare our unity and solidarity with the Coptic Orthodox Church, in Egypt and the world. I ask from my colleagues and pastors to once again carry the message and meaning of the cross, love and forgiveness.”
Dr. Atef Gendy, president of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, believes that Islamic terrorist are attempting to undermine President Sisi as he seeks to bring stability and order to the country. Sisi, he explained, is on the horns of a dilemma: “If he cracks down on terrorists, he is seen in the West as threatening human rights; but if he does not respond vigorously, he is seen as not protecting the vulnerable Christian minority.”
The bombing occurred a week after Sisi met with President Donald Trump on Monday, April 3. Trump greeted him warmly, commending his efforts to defend against terrorism. The bombings also occurred two weeks before Roman Catholic Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Egypt. Gendy reflects that the bombings were probably timed to embarrass the Egyptian president.
“The terrorist,” Gendy suggests, “may have wanted to frighten Pope Francis into not coming as planned. His failure to come would be a statement that Sisi is not able to provide adequate security for the pontiff or that he does not trust the government to protect him.”
A Christian missionary, who asked to remain anonymous, reflected that the Islamic State has “warmed of further attacks on ‘the crusaders and their apostate followers.’” Terrorists recognize, he opined, that “Christian communities are soft targets” and that attacks on them are more likely to be noticed in the West than attacks on Muslims. In effect, they are an easy way to undermine the current government.
About 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 90 million people is Christians. Most of these are members of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The largest Protestant denomination is the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a denomination launched by American Presbyterian missionaries in 1854 that retains close ties with the PCUSA.
Michael Parker is director of graduate studies and professor of church history at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo.