Following the Palm Sunday attacks against two Coptic churches in the Egyptian cities of Tanta and Alexandria, President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi has decided to impose a three-month state of emergency in a bid to shore up security in a country plagued by terrorist attacks in recent years. Troops will be deployed across the country to help secure vital facilities, as part of government efforts to stem the tide of terrorist acts being carried out throughout the country. The separate church attacks are said to have taken place during concurrent church services, with Coptic Pope Tawadros II having led the festivities at Saint Mark’s Church in Alexandria. These and similar other attacks over the past few years, has both Coptic Christians and most Egyptians concerned for their security, at a time when Egypt is gearing to strength its military cooperation with allies in the region along with the US, in the global fight against radical Islamic terror. Prominent amongst these terror groups is ISIS, which has claimed responsibility for the Sunday attacks, via its news agency Aman. The terror group has previously stated that it plans to target minorities such as the Coptic Christian community, as part of its on-going terrorist activities in Egypt and neighbouring countries in the Middle East.
Owing to recent developments, there is a heightened pressure on Egyptian security forces to respond swiftly and decisively, in large part due to the precarious security situation faced by minority groups such as the Coptic Christians. The Coptic community, which makes up 10 percent of Egypt’s population, has a well documented history of persecution from within Egyptian society, which helps to explain why many mourners felt betrayed and angered by what they perceive to be a lax attitude to security on the part of local authorities. Only a week ago, a bomb was discovered and defused at St Georges Church – the site of the Palm Sunday bombing in Tanta. Furthermore, the recent revelation concerning malfunctioning metal detectors at the same location on the day of the attack has done little to dispel the notion that churches in Egypt are under-protected. As result of this and other details that have emerged since then, it was reported by local media that the local security chief was relieved of his duty.
While the government’s response to the attacks appears to signal a determination to allay the fears of the Coptic community, some observers have pointed out that a state of emergency would only serve to worsen what is already a tense political climate. It should not be forgotten that Egypt has in recent years, witnessed a major clampdown on dissent and political expression ever since a military coup in 2013 led to the ousting of then-president, Mohammed Morsi. This fact alone lends credence to the belief that the government could potentially abuse it’s emergency powers against both real and perceived enemies.
In the meantime, the recent attacks will prompt tightened security measures as Egypt prepares to host Pope Francis for what President Sisi describes as an opportunity for dialogue between the Muslim and Christian faiths.