CAIRO: People’s Assembly (PA) Speaker Ahmed Fathi Sorour claimed that the Nagaa Hammadi shooting earlier this month was not indicative of sectarian strife in Egypt, but was an isolated criminal incident.
In an interview with BBC Arabic Saturday, Sorour said that the incident was not fuelled by sectarian tensions between Egypt’s Muslims and Christians, citing as evidence the main suspect’s previous criminal record.
He also pointed out that he did not believe that a prior incident, where a Coptic Christian in a town near Nagaa Hammadi raped a 12-year-old Muslim girl, was related to sectarianism.
“Both incidents were isolated, for that is not the behavior of Christians, nor was Nagaa Hammadi the behavior of Muslims; so both incidents must be viewed as isolated events, Sorour said.
Six Christians and one Muslim guard were gunned down outside a church in Nagaa Hammadi on Jan. 6 after midnight mass on the eve of Coptic Christmas. The perpetrators shot the victims as they drove by in a car.
Editor of the Coptic Al-Watani newspaper Yousef Sidhom told Daily News Egypt Sunday that Sorour’s comments were at odds with the report of the state-appointed National Council of Human Rights (NCHR) regarding the Nagaa Hammadi affair.
“The NCHR report said that there was a deep-rooted problem in Egyptian society and Nagaa Hammadi was a reflection of this. It also said that Muslims get preferential treatment over Christians in Egypt and it must be rectified as soon as possible, he said.
Sidhom added that Sorour’s comments reflect a “sickness in our political life; if direct orders are not received from the president, no one dares to make statements that would initiate any change.
The PA Speaker also shot down suggestions of the need to form a body to handle sectarian issues, or draft new laws to confront sectarian strife in Egypt.
“We don’t need an authority to solve sectarian issues because there are no sectarian issues on the scale you suggest, he said.
Sorour had also said something similar to a delegation from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom that visited Egypt recently. He told the delegation that the constitution equally protects the rights of Muslims and Christians with no discrimination between them.
“How could he say there is no discrimination, Sidhom commented, “everyone knows what’s going on. [However] there will be no external political pressure on the Egyptian government because of strategic interests. There are pressures from the inside, society is more aware and demands are being made, especially after what happened in Nagaa Hammadi.
Sorour had chaired a meeting of the PA’s Foreign Relations Committee last Monday that rejected a statement issued by the European Parliament regarding the Nagaa Hammadi killings.
Members of the committee argued that Europe was not in a position to pass judgment due to violations against freedom of beliefs in its own backyard. Sorour said that the statement of the European Parliament was completely rejected.