Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, President of Egypt, in April 2017 announced a three-month state of emergency following attacks on two Coptic churches that left at least 44 dead. The measure needs to be approved by parliament before it is implemented. Once approved, it will allow the authorities to make arrests without warrants and search people’s homes. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is assumed to be behind the blasts in Tanta and Alexandria on Palm Sunday (9 April 2017).
Restrictions on freedom of movement and gatherings. Entitles the President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to seize or shut down media outlets. Deployment of security forces to enforce measures. Keeping a watch on all means of communication. Allows any property to be placed under control of security forces. Detaining anyone suspected of violating state of emergency.
The first bombing occurred in Tanta, a Nile Delta city about 100 km north of Cairo. The attack tore through the inside of St. George Church during its Palm Sunday service. At least 27 people were killed in the attack with at least 78 injuries. A few hours later, the second explosion was heard in Alexandria. It hit Saint Mark’s Cathedral, the historic seat of the Coptic Pope, killing 17 people, including three police officers. At least 48 injuries were reported following the attack.
The attacks have prompted anger and fear among Christians in the country. The attack is the latest on a religious minority increasingly targeted by Islamist militants. The assault also comes as a challenge to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who has pledged to protect them as part of his campaign against extremism.
The Copts are an ethno-religious group that primarily inhabit the area of modern Egypt. The Copts are the largest Christian denomination in the country. Historically, the group spoke the Coptic language, a direct descendant of the Demotic Egyptian that was spoken during the Roman era. Copts in Egypt constitute the largest Christian community in the Middle East, as well as the largest ethno-religious minority in the region, accounting for an estimated 10 per cent of the Egyptian population.
Most Copts adhere to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. The decline of the community started with the Arab invasions of the 7th century and the progressive Islamisation of Egypt. The Copts of Egypt have been targeted since the 2011 uprising that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak. On 1 January 2011, more than 20 people died in the unclaimed bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria.
The same year in March, 13 people were killed in clashes between Muslims and Copts. In May 2011, 15 were dead in the clashes between Muslims and Copts in the Cairo neighbourhood of Imbaba, where two churches were attacked. In December 2016, a suicide bombing claimed by the Islamic State group killed 29 worshippers during a Sunday mass in Cairo.