In Egypt, Coptic churches and institutions are always guarded by security forces. But on the day that the military began killing Islamist demonstrators in Cairo, churches and other Christian institutions around the country were oddly unguarded, and calls for protection went unheeded, says the bishop of Minya, Abba Makarios, in this interview with Egyptian satellite channel Al-HayaTV.
Al HayaTV: With us on the telephone we have Bishop Makarios. Welcome to the program sir. You have gone through a lot today in Minya; could you please tell us in detail what happened?
Abba Makarios: There were attacks on several churches. Some of them were partially damaged, while others were totally destroyed. There were also attacks on Coptic institutions, organizations, and properties, which were either partially or totally destroyed.
What was the attitude of the security forces while this was happening, sir?
In reality there were no security forces at all.
There were no police present at all?
Not in any of the places where these attacks occurred?
Were they delayed, held up? Did you call them? What happened exactly?
Uh, well… they begged off, apologized.
Do you mean they apologized for not coming, or apologized for their negligence [in not being at their posts]?
No they apologized, saying that they could not come.
They just told you they would not be coming?!
Yes… they did not come, we asked them to come and they did not show up, in all the places where there were attacks and destruction…
Do you have any information about how these attacks got started?
Uh… they were simultaneous with the launching of the [military]breakup of the [Cairo] sit-ins, as if it was a planned response: ‘if you break up the sit-ins, we will drag you into a street war, a quagmire that will disperse your efforts.’ That is how I personally read the synchronization between the operations against the sit-ins and the attacks against the churches-as a way of saying ‘we can widen the breadth of the clashes and the violence.’
Are you in contact with the Church?
Yes. We are in contact with His Holiness the Pope, we are in contact with [Prime Minister] Hazem Beblawi, in contact with the Interior Minister, with army commanders…
So you informed the Prime Minister and the Interior Minister of the police negligence?
Yes we did, of course.
And what was the answer?
They said that in the future they will prevent this negligence, that there will be a better security presence, and made other promises like that.
But are these promises being fulfilled on the ground, or not?
What do you mean? Is there police protection in all of these places now, or not?
No, there is no security presence, unfortunately.
So what is the situation now? Are the local residents doing the guarding themselves? Neighborhood watch committees?
There are no neighborhood watch committees yet. Because what happened today really was a surprise. The attacks caught us by surprise, their organization and scale: they happened simultaneously in multiple places. The same methods were used, the same types of weapons were used, the same scenario played out all over the place, whether in Minya or elsewhere.
We think that if there had been a police presence, it would have headed off these attacks-or even if it had not entirely prevented them, a police presence would have made the damage much less severe. If the fire trucks had responded to our calls, the arson attacks could have been brought under control. But the fires just continued to burn until the places they were lit were completely burned up.
How has His Holiness the Pope reacted to these events?
He said he is saddened, and that he is praying for all of Egypt, and hopes that this is just a phase that will soon pass.
Abba Makarios, bishop of Minya, please accept our condolences, Egyptian to Egyptian. Thank you very much for being with us.
Watch the interview in Arabic on Al HayaTV here.
20 Aug 2013