British Christians have condemned the Egyptian Army’s distortion of its role in the massacre of more than two dozen Coptic Christians in early October.
In an unprecedented press conference hosted by Premier Christian Media in central London recently, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) joined Bishop Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Britain, in calling for an independent judicial inquiry into the army’s actions in Cairo on Oct. 9.
What started as a peaceful march involving 60,000 people including women and children suddenly escalated into violence at the Maspero state television center.
However, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) – a body of 20 senior officers that is currently governing Egypt – moved quickly to play down the military’s role.
It has stated no shots were fired by the military and that the tanks were not intentionally driven into demonstrators.
This version raises doubts about the ability of the SCAF’s capability and willingness to effectively oversee a transition to democracy, according to CSW.
Coming on top of an escalation of as yet unprosecuted attacks on Coptic Christians, the situation must be urgently reviewed, CSW claimed.
“The truth isn’t being told. This was a massacre,” CSW chief executive Mervyn Thomas said. “My guess is that it would not have happened against another type of demonstration. Christians are being treated as second-class citizens, and we need to change that.”
Bishop Angaelos said the “savagery” of the attack was “unprecedented.”
“Of all the hundreds of protests since January, not a single one has been dealt with in this way,” he said. “The question is why? This is the same army that said in January it would not fire a single shot against an Egyptian citizen.”
He added, “There needs to be a transparent inquiry that addresses the issues. There is not a single image showing a demonstrator holding a weapon. But even if they were, the disproportionate use of power cannot be justified.”
There has also been concern over the role of the state media, which produced several broadcasts calling on “honorable citizens” to defend the army from armed Coptic attackers.
This points to the possible existence of a deliberate effort to ignite ethno-religious violence as a means of prolonging the military’s stay in power, according to CSW in briefing documents distributed at the press conference.
Bishop Angaelos said the church was not calling for an international inquiry. “We are not going to be seen as traitors again.”
This was also CSW’s position for the time being, Thomas said.
“We want to give the military the opportunity to investigate this. But they need to know the rest of the world is watching. If it doesn’t happen, we may have to reconsider and look for an international call.”
Thomas said there was still hope for Egypt, noting that the vast majority of the population are liberal Muslims who do not want a theocracy, and that there have been many cases of Muslims protecting Christians when they go to church.
Bishop Angaelos agreed, describing the post-Mubarak landscape as an opportunity for “positive reform.”
Since the protest, front-page advertisements placed by the Bible Society of Egypt (BSE) in eight national newspapers have been allowed to quote the Bible for the first time.
The advertisements, part of the Society’s “Rebuild Egypt” campaign, quote the prophet Jeremiah’s call to “seek the peace of the city and pray to the Lord for it.”
“This is the first time we have been allowed to quote a Bible verse in any of our public advertising,” said BSE general secretary Ramez Atallah.
“Many people from all religious backgrounds have called the Bible Society to thank us for the timely message and positive role,” Atallah said.
“One prominent political figure, the editor of a major newspaper, called to say that he is grateful for all that we are doing to promote peace and unity in these difficult days.”