Stand firm with Copts under attack at Christmas

Much still remains to be done to ensure extremists do not succeed in triggering hate

Security forces guard a street leading to the church were an expolosion ocurred leaving one casualty, in Cairo on January 05, 2019. A policeman was killed while trying to dismantle an explosive device outside a Coptic church in Egypt on Saturday, January 5, 2019, a security source said. Two other officers were also wounded in the explosion as security personnel attempted to defuse the device in Nasr City on the edge of Cairo, the source added.
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Tomorrow marks one of the holiest days on the calendar for Egypt's 10 million Coptic Christians, many of whom will be uniting to celebrate Christmas. Continuing a practice he began in 2015, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi will attend a Christmas Eve mass tonight in Egypt's largest cathedral, capable of accommodating 8,200 worshippers. Yet again, however, what should be a joyous event is marked by grief and loss, with tragic echoes of Christmases past. On Saturday, a courageous Egyptian policeman was killed while trying to defuse a bomb outside a Coptic church in Nasr City, near Cairo. The blast injured two other officers and a passer-by.

There was an ominous familiarity to the attack, one of a string of incidents which have haunted Egypt's Coptic community, especially around religious festivals and events. In December 2016, an explosion at a cathedral killed 28 people shortly before 43 lives were claimed by bombs at two churches on Palm Sunday. Last year, a gunman killed nine Coptic Christians, a horror that was repeated last month when ISIS shooters attacked a bus of worshippers near a monastery in Minya, killing seven. The repeated targeting of the innocent and devout while peacefully practicing their faith is particularly abhorrent. Mr El Sisi's support of the Coptic community sends a powerful message that the divisions extremists hope to sow will ultimately fail, because this bomb is not just an attack on one group of people but an assault on Egypt's centuries-old heritage of multi-faith co-existence.

Still, as the idea of cohesion suffers fresh blows in Egypt, much remains to be done. It falls to the government, civil society and religious leaders to ensure extremists do not succeed in their mission to trigger hate and fear. Steps by Mr El Sisi's government to regulate extremist preachers, tackle their ideologies and fight militants in the Sinai Peninsula and Nile Delta will help. But all members of society must continue to stand together with resolve and dignity to counter the sectarianism that is peddled by hate-mongers.

The thousands of worshippers who comprise the UAE’s own Coptic community today stand with their Egyptian counterparts in friendship and solidarity. On this most sacred occasion, we must seek to strengthen the bonds of unity and respect – because the grim tactics of extremists must not overshadow the principles of tolerance and co-existence that have stood strong in Egypt and across the region for centuries.