By Farah Yousry
CAIRO: Calling for calm in the wake of a deadly attack on an Alexandria church, Pope Shenouda III said the government must do its part by addressing the discrimination faced by Egypt’s Christian community.
As hundreds of predominantly Christian protesters clashed with police forces in northern Cairo, Coptic Pope Shenouda III was interviewed on state television on Monday to comment on the violence and to present the Church’s position on the issue.
The bombing in front of Al-Qeddesine Church (Church of the Two Saints) in Alexandria introduced three days of violent protests that involved clashes with police forces and the harassment of various Muslim onlookers around the bombed church.
Protests turned ugly as angry youths burned tires and threw rocks at passing cars. A minority was heard making anti-Muslim comments and statements referring to vengeance.
Shenouda made it clear, however, that such acts are highly unacceptable, and are frowned upon by the Christian community.
“[Those causing trouble and making anti-Muslim comments] do not belong to the Christian community, and are not representative of our ethics or the essence of Christianity [itself],” he said.
Shenouda acknowledged that the grievances of the Christian community that had been accumulating before the incident took place — like restrictions on building churches — helped fuel their anger.
Despite the “grave and unprecedented” attack, the Pope called upon angry Christian crowds to be wise and requested that both Christians and Muslims remain calm in the coming period.
Shenouda also warned that some political groups and activists may take advantage of the protests and the crowds in order to push forward their anti-government agendas.
“Problems can be solved with steady, calm representation and not with violent action … sentimental words, or clashes in protests,” Shenouda said.
The Pope referred to the clear solidarity between Muslims and Christians.
“I cannot see any clashes between Muslims and Christians,” he added. “On the contrary, the unity against the terrorist acts and the spirit that was created between both groups were admirable.”
Shenouda added that the government must do its part in addressing the most important issues in the Coptic community, such as discrimination in the job market and restrictions on the construction of churches.
He commended the efforts made by President Hosni Mubarak and various other government officials in calming the Christian community and investigating the attack to find the perpetrators.
“The solidarity between Muslim and Christian citizens is certainly invaluable,” Sheounda said. “However, it’s not enough. Sometimes it is the government that is capable of solving the problem through ensuring just ratification of the law without [discriminating] against people’s religion.”