What really happened on Sunday, April 7, 2013, during the St. Mark Cathedral attack in Cairo, where two Christians were killed and dozens wounded by Egyptian forces? As usual, different reports gave different versions, but now that the smoke has settled, the facts as first asserted during the attack by Coptic activists have been confirmed.
Back during the conflict, when the military was actually besieging the St. Mark cathedral—the most sacred building for millions of Coptic Christians and the only apostolic see in the entire continent of Africa—Amir Ramzi, a Copt who managed to escape the compound where hundreds of other Christians were trapped all night, was interviewed by phone on the popular Egyptian show, Cairo Today.
According to Ramzi, President of the Criminal Court: "Today we witnessed a day unprecedented in the history of modern Egypt—a day when holy sites were attacked both by the interior ministry and the mob."
The program's host, Amr Adib, evidently finding it difficult to implicate the interior ministry in an attack on an Egyptian landmark, asked Ramzi to clarify. So Ramzi began from the beginning, explaining how the funeral service was for six Christians killed two days earlier—including one intentionally set aflame—in a conflict begun when Muslims were seen sexually harassing a Christian girl. Many of the Copts coming out of the cathedral funeral service were angry and protesting. Waiting for them in the streets were Islamic extremists, who started hurling rocks on the Copts—who responded in like manner. Eventually police appeared; Ramzi himself called a police chief, who assured him that the Copts should just go back into their cathedral until the police secure the situation:
So that's what we did, thinking police would come to protect and separate the clashers. We were surprised to find that the police began to intervene and become another party to the conflict, attacking the Copts who were fighting back against the [Muslim] youth who were attacking them, and shooting gas bombs into the cathedral compound, which caused extreme poisoning, to the point that the ambulance cars were not enough to take the sick.
Ramzi added that three to four gas bombs struck the papal headquarters itself—the seat of the Coptic pope—while another 40 to 50 entered into the general compound, causing dozens of Copts, including many women and children, to grow sick and faint. Whether from the gas bombs themselves or from another source, Copts also found the ceiling of their cathedral catching fire, although the youths managed to put it out.
He further confirmed that live ammunition was fired on those Copts who refused to relent and instead fought back fiercely, mainly with rocks. When Ramzi tried to calm them, they told him that they "were ready to be martyred for our most important church," and, "We are not just children to abandon our cathedral to be set aflame or have someone attack it."
Ramzi said that he could not really blame these Christian defenders and added that many were already in heavy mourning for the six Copts murdered the day before, and that, after a second attack on their cathedral at the funeral of those who had been killed, they had reached a point beyond frustration.
Ramzi's most important and, at the time, controversial assertion, however, was the role played by Egypt's Interior Ministry. The police and security figures, he said, would tell the beleaguered Copts that everything was fine, that matters were secured, "only to find another five gas bombs thrown their way, not to mention live ammunition fired at them." Similarly, he said that security forces kept circling the cathedral and shooting gas bombs at every door: "Why, why would they do this?" Ramzi said on the phone. When he and others phoned the police, urging them to bring an armored vehicle to the front of the cathedral to guard it, the vehicle came, but far from protecting the cathedral, he personally saw "the [Muslim] youths" standing on top of it, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at the cathedral.
When the host continued to express dismay and doubt, that the state security would really behave this way, Ramzi asked an important question: the one thing that everyone agreed to is that, for hours, there were at least 30-40 Muslim youths hurling various projectiles and Molotov cocktails at the cathedral, "So can you tell me why security did not stop them or apprehend them? Was Egypt's entire state security unable to stop a mere 30-40 youths from vandalizing the nation's cathedral?"
When the host said, "but they arrested ten people," Ramzi scoffed: "What are you thinking? You will find that the majority of them are Christian!"
Time has proven all of Ramzi's eyewitness assertions true. Soon after his interview, which was conducted as the cathedral was still under siege, several pictures were published, including by Youm7, a prominent Egyptian paper, showing Muslims shooting rifles and throwing rocks and other objects at the cathedral, while the security forces stand by. One picture shows a masked man in civilian clothes sitting in an Egyptian armored vehicle.
Even the Western mainstream media recently came around to affirming that Egyptian security forces were involved in the attack on the cathedral. And, true to Ramzi's prediction, the only people to be arrested in connection with this latest assault on Christianity were the Christians themselves.
Raymond Ibrahim is author of the forthcoming book, Crucified Again: Exposing Islam's New War on Christians. He is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and associate fellow at the Middle East Forum.