Hundreds of Christians were under siege inside St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo on the night of April 8, as security forces and local residents launched a prolonged and unprecedented attack on the cathedral. St. Mark’s, located in Cairo’s Abbasiyya district, and which houses relics of the apostle after whom it is named, is the seat of the Coptic Church’s leader, Pope Tawadros II (shown in photo).
Alastair Beach, a correspondent for the British newspaper The Independent, witnessed the exchange of gunfire as armed gangs descended on the funeral of four Coptic Christians who had been killed during violent confrontations that erupted in the area two days earlier. A Muslim man was also killed in the clashes.
Beach reported that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi issued a statement the night of April 7, saying that he had spoken to Pope Tawadros and had given orders for the cathedral and citizens to be guarded. Morsi said that protecting the lives of both Muslims and Christians was a state responsibility and added: “I consider any attack on the cathedral as an attack on me, personally.”
The report cited statements from witnesses who were attending the funeral that they had been attacked by rock-throwing neighborhood locals and forced back inside the cathedral. Mina Zakaraya, a Coptic seminarian who was standing inside the cathedral compound, said, “Only God can save us from what is happening right now.”
Beach’s report also quoted Makram Girgis, who was sitting on the cathedral steps: “I’m worried about the situation in Egypt,” said Girgis. “The Muslim Brotherhood and extremist groups here want us to leave. They don’t accept Copts. But this was our country, ever since the time of the pharaohs.”
A BBC News reporter spoke with a local Coptic priest, Father Sourial Yunnan, who said that Christians have long lived peacefully with their Muslim neighbors, but that conditions for Christians in Egypt had deteriorated under the ruling Muslim Brotherhood. Father Yunnan, noted BBC, believes that worse trouble is yet to come.
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Photo of Pope Tawadros: AP Images