Egypt church bombing raises calls to uproot bigotry

Relatives of victims of a Sunday cathedral bombing ride a bus after their funeral service held at the Virgin Mary Church, in Cairo, Egypt, on Dec. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
Updated 17 December 2016

Egypt church bombing raises calls to uproot bigotry

CAIRO: Growing up in Egypt, Mina and other Copts remember all too well the anti-Christian slurs they used to hear at school and on the street.
Once, while playing football, a Muslim youth snatched Mina’s necklace and crucifix and stomped on it.
“I won’t forget that day,” said Mina, now in his 30s.
Egypt is now trying to come to terms with the kind of religious bigotry behind a December 11 suicide bombing in a Cairo church that killed 26 people during Sunday mass.
“School curricula, some (religious) platforms and the absence of an enlightened current are what have led to this,” said Coptic Church spokesman Boulos Halim.
Egyptian authorities have announced the arrest of four jihadist suspects.
But the authorities must go much further and address the kind of prejudice running through Egyptian society that for decades has fueled attacks on Coptic Christians, said Halim.
“Police and military power have never been able to erase terrorism. It must be accompanied by the power of thought,” he said.
The attack claimed by the Daesh group was the second church bombing in Egypt since 2011 and only the latest sectarian incident in the Muslim-majority country where Christians have long complained of discrimination.
Copts, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 90-million population, say they are sidelined both in the education system and state institutions.
Halim traces the roots of violence against his community to the 1970s, when then president Anwar Sadat empowered Islamists against his socialist opponents.
Attacks by Muslims on Christians, especially in rural areas, carried on after Sadat himself was assassinated by jihadists in 1981 and succeeded by his vice president, Hosni Mubarak.
In more recent times, Copts have also had to contend with Islamist extremists whose propaganda portrays them as outsiders and second-class citizens.

Teaching bigotry
Some say the roots of discrimination can be found in schools.
Schools teach compulsory classes in religion, with Christians leaving classrooms during Islamic lessons to attend separate Christian religion tuition.
In Arabic classes, Christians memorize Qur'anic verses — a primary reference for teaching the language — while Muslims are taught about Christianity from an Islamic perspective.
“They don’t learn anything about my religion,” said Peter, a Copt in his 30s.
Bigotry was one of the reasons that Peter, who asked not to be fully identified, left Egypt, saying it made him feel “like I’m not from this country.”
Halim said confronting discrimination should involve government ministries as well as institutions from both sides of the religious divide.
They should “create a national project to start a current of enlightenment among Egyptians,” Halim said.
After Mubarak’s overthrow in a 2011 uprising, Copts came under attack again, with dozens killed in sectarian clashes and in a confrontation with the military in October that year.
Under Islamist president Muhammad Mursi, fundamentalists regularly incited violence against Christians.
Following his overthrow by the military in 2013, Muslim mobs attacked dozens of churches and Christian properties accusing the Copts of having sided with the army.
With former military chief Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s election a year later, Copts hoped they had found an ally who understood the dangers of Islamist extremism.
Sisi, who oversaw a bloody crackdown on Mursi’s supporters and pledged to wipe out a jihadist insurgency, became Egypt’s first president to attend a Christmas mass.
His administration also finally regulated church construction under a law supported by the Coptic Church, though opposed by critics for retaining obstacles.

Changing ideologies
“What happened is not enough to change ideologies,” said Halim.
There has been an uptick of sectarian incidents in 2016.
In May, Muslim villagers set ablaze Christian homes and paraded an elderly Coptic woman naked over rumors that her son was in a relationship with a Muslim woman.
In February, authorities halted the hiring of a Christian woman as a school principal after student protests in Minya province, south of the capital.
Violent attacks have increased, with clashes often ignited by rumors that Christians were building a church.
Activists say extremist Salafi preachers are spreading hatred in non-mainstream religious services, some of them available online.
“It is very clear that hatred is present in speeches. I don’t know what they (the authorities) are waiting for,” Halim said.
This year, four Coptic teenagers were convicted of insulting Islam after they recorded a video mocking the Daesh group.
The government prefers to defuse communal tensions or clashes between Muslims and Copts by holding “conciliation meetings” rather than applying the law, critics say.


Iranian foreign minister Zarif arrives in Biarritz during G7

Updated 25 August 2019

Iranian foreign minister Zarif arrives in Biarritz during G7

  • Iranian foreign ministry says Zarif will not hold talks with Trump and his team
  • Earlier Trump dampened down Emmanuel Macron's optimism on Iran talks

BIARRITZ, France: -Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif landed in the French seaside resort of Biarritz Sunday for talks during a G7 summit.

"Zarif... has arrived in Biarritz, where the G7 is being held, to continue talks regarding the recent measures between the presidents of Iran and France," foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said, referring to their efforts to salvage a nuclear deal.

Earlier, US President Donald Trump appeared to brush aside French efforts to mediate with Iran on Sunday, saying that while he was happy for President Emmanuel Macron to reach out to Tehran to defuse tensions he would carry on with his own initiatives.
European leaders have struggled to tamp down the brewing confrontation between Iran and the United States since Trump pulled his country out of Iran’s internationally-brokered 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on the Iranian economy.
Macron, who has pushed mediation efforts in recent weeks to avoid a further deterioration in the region, had told LCI television that the G7 had agreed on joint action on Iran.
The French presidency said G7 leaders had even agreed that Macron should hold talks and pass on messages to Iran after they discussed the issue over dinner at a summit in southwestern France on Saturday evening.
However, Trump, who has pushed a maximum pressure policy on Iran, pushed back.
Asked if he had signed off on a statement that Macron intends to give on behalf of the G7 on Iran, Trump said:
“I haven’t discussed this. No I haven’t,” he told reporters, adding that Macron and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe were free to talk to Iran.
“We’ll do our own outreach, but, you know, I can’t stop people from talking. If they want to talk, they can talk.”
Macron, who has taken the lead to defuse tensions fearing that a collapse of the nuclear deal could set ablaze the Middle East, met Zarif on Friday. The aim was to discuss proposals that could ease the crisis, including the idea of reducing some US sanctions or providing Iran with an economic compensation mechanism.
Macron appeared to backtrack on his own team’s comments later, saying there was no formal mandate from the G7 leaders to pass a message to Iran.
Highlighting just how difficult agreeing on concrete measures between allies is, Macron said the leaders’ views had converged on not wanting Iran to acquire a nuclear bomb and ensuring peace and security in the Middle East.
He was supposed to discuss those ideas with Trump on the sidelines of the G7, which also comprises Britain, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and the EU.
“Everyone wants to avoid a conflict, Donald Trump was extremely clear on that point,” Macron told LCI.
“We have to continue to take initiatives and in the coming weeks that on the one hand there are no more Iranian decisions that contradict this objective and that we open new negotiations,” Macron said without giving details.
In response to the tougher US sanctions and what it says is the inability of European powers party to the deal — France, Britain and Germany, to compensate it for its lost oil revenue, Tehran has responded with a series of moves, including retreating from some of its commitments to limit its nuclear activity made under the deal.
The United States has made no indication it will ease any sanctions and it is unclear what kind of compensation mechanism Macron wants to offer Iran given at this stage a proposed trade channel for humanitarian and food exchanges with Iran is still not operational.
Macron has also said that in return for any concessions he would expect Iran to comply fully with the nuclear deal and for Iran to engage in new negotiations that would include its ballistic missile program and regional activities.