Egypt church fire that killed 41 prompts widespread grief

Renovations at Abu Seifein Church in Giza begin as families hold mass funerals for the victims

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A state of grief has gripped Egypt since Sunday morning when a fire broke out at a packed church in one of the capital’s lower-class neighbourhoods, killing 41 people, the majority of whom were children, and leaving many others injured.

The disaster in Giza — apparently caused by an electrical short circuit in an air-conditioning unit on the building’s top floor — has filled Egyptian social media channels with condolences, lamentations and anger.

While some of the country’s prominent figures sent messages of love and support to the families of those lost in the fire, others were sceptical of whether the blaze was accidental.

“I did not want to write condolences before I knew the details of the accident, because in Upper Egypt we do not accept condolences until we know the details and know the perpetrator!" Coptic business mogul Naguib Sawiris tweeted on Sunday night. "God is the avenger! And it is he who will bring the rights of the victims."

Other members of the Coptic religious minority, most of whom had lost people in the fire, also posted several videos asking why the authorities’ response was not quicker. Witnesses said the top floor of the church was burning for about 90 minutes before the fire brigade arrived.

Youtuber Mohaelhraq delivered a live cast from inside the Imababa General Hospital, where 20 of the victims were taken.

“I just want the relevant authorities to understand what exactly happened," he said. "Why wasn’t the fire brigade there on time? Our priest, the leader of our congregation, died in the fire. You know why that happened? Because of negligence, plain and simple.

"Yes, everything is fate and we are helpless in its face as everyone’s saying, but the negligence! 41 people! 41 people died and not a single person could be saved?”

The Youtuber also repeated what witnesses had told The National on Sunday night from the scene of the fire, that the area’s Muslim community exerted a great deal of effort while trying to save the stricken congregation before authorities arrived.

A local shopkeeper said her neighbour, a young man, was severely injured during rescue efforts.

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi issued a statement late on Sunday, saying he had directed the army's engineering authority to conduct speedy renovations on the Abu Seifein Church’s structure, which was severely damaged.

Televised segments showed a team of construction workers at the church on Sunday night to carry out the repairs.

Two mass funerals were held at two Giza churches on Sunday night, where funerary rights were conducted for all the deceased, amid prayers from their families and loved ones. In some cases, emotional farewells were live-streamed from the churches.

The total death toll, revealed by officials to local news outlets on Sunday night, showed that of the 41 killed, 18 were children, 12 were women and 11 men. The loss of so many children has made the tragedy much more difficult for people to digest, a number of Egyptians said on social media.

A number of the injured were released from hospital on Sunday night, the Egyptian Health Ministry said.

The UAE, Iraq and Jordan were among the first governments to offer their condolences to Egypt. By Monday morning, they were joined by various other international governments and organisations including Saudi Arabia, the Muslim World League, the Gulf Co-operation Council and the United Nations.

Updated: August 15, 2022, 12:08 PM
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