ALEXANDRIA, Egypt — A priest of the Coptic Patriarchate of Alexandria has rejected claims that attacks on Egyptian Christians indicate a religious conflict, noting that terrorists in the country are attacking many groups.
“The idea that this involves a conflict between Muslims and Christians simply isn’t borne out by reality. Not only Christians are being attacked, but state institutions as well,” said Father Hani Bakhoum Kiroulos, secretary of the patriarchate.
While police are stationed at many churches, he said terrorists “strike completely unexpectedly.”
Father Kiroulos told Aid to the Church in Need, “This is a problem that affects all Egyptians equally, not only the Christians.”
“Egypt is conducting a war on terrorism,” he said.
Father Kiroulos’ comments come after an Oct. 20 attack on a Coptic wedding in Cairo, when unidentified gunmen killed a Christian family of four and wounded several others, both Christian and Muslim.
That was the latest in a series of attacks on Christians since a popular uprising backed by Egypt’s military ousted the Muslim Brotherhood and its president Mohammed Morsi from power on July 3. In August, some 80 churches were attacked, and both Muslims and Christians were killed.
The priest said that such attackers “want to provoke Christians into calling for Western intervention, from the U.S. or European countries.”
He said such an intervention would “internationalize” the conflict and “disrupt national unity.”
“The extremists’ goal is also to embroil the Christians in a civil war,” Father Kiroulos said. “But this tactic won’t work: Christians have shown that they are genuine Egyptians.”
Father Kiroulos said extremist elements are trying to thwart the will of the majority of Egyptians, who desire a democratic state that guarantees civil liberties and religious freedom.
In his view, Egypt needs a new constitution and elections for president and parliament. He added that the terrorist elements destabilizing the country “must be eliminated.”
The priest also called for “genuine reconciliation between all groups in Egypt.”
“Hence, the Muslim Brotherhood must put the interests of Egypt before its own. This is the only way we will be able to build a genuinely democratic state,” he said.
Father Kiroulos reported that the Sinai region is heavily infiltrated by terrorists, who are active throughout Egypt.
The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need’s new 2013 report on Christian persecution, “Persecuted and Forgotten?” said that a rise in anti-Christian violence and intolerance was expected, given the political unrest in Egypt.
However, the report said the scale of attacks has exceeded even the “bleakest predictions.”
Christians make up approximately 10% of Egypt’s 84 million people. An estimated 200,000 Christians have left the country since February 2011.
The Muslim Brotherhood has voiced sympathy for the victims of the wedding shooting, although Father Kiroulos said he was not able to judge the group’s sincerity.
He said, “I can say that during the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood many terrorists entered the country, and we are now suffering from the consequences of their policies.