In the history books, Alexandria takes on a different form to how it appeared last week. It was considered the capital of the world during the Ptolemaic Era, and it remained, culturally at least, a rival to Rome throughout a thousand years of Roman glory. Certainly, the city faded significantly after Cairo became known as Egypt’s capital, with the dawn of the Fatimid period, but the city remained famous as a location of one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Its charm was sufficient to make it, at least in the summer season, Egypt’s second capital during the Alawiyya Dynasty. Following a prolonged period of negligence, after Egypt became a republic, the “Bride of the Mediterranean” [Alexandria] was once again revived in the past two decades with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, whilst a number of international organizations have sought to set up their headquarters in the city. Many of those who live along Egypt’s northern coast have found that despite the charm of the sea and the sand, they cannot live without the beauty of cities, and the attraction of urban areas.
However, it is a human trait to categorize an era by one defining moment, and in the case of Alexandria, this moment came on News Year’s Eve 2010, when an enormous explosion occurred, causing many deaths and injuries. The terrorist attack had left its mark on a church, as well as a mosque opposite, both places in which Almighty God is worshiped, yet their sanctity could not protect them.
This event was a truly decisive moment for Egypt, as well as for many other countries in the region. This attack thrust forth, with great intensity, Egypt’s political and socio-cultural issues, which are sometimes a source of debate, yet at other times a source of anger. In such situations, people tend to appear resolute, and in this instance, perhaps the Egyptian body had never received such a wake up call. Every single political or religious power not only condemned the attack, but rushed to reiterate the dangers posed by terrorism, emphasizing that the war against it will continue unabated. The scenes of “national unity” were most striking, represented in the attitudes of al-Azhar and the Dar al-Fatwa, and then by all political parties and powers, and even institutions, public forces and ordinary citizens, who willingly helped in the protection of other churches on New Year’s Eve.
This reaction made the Alexandria incident appear as a resounding defeat for terrorism, and the terrorists. In reality, we were facing a larger terrorist military operation, which on this occasion happened to target a city with special significance in human history, giving it worldwide publicity. The objective of the attack was to incite sectarian violence, in a manner no less heinous than the incident itself. In fact, there was no lack of information regarding the intentions of the attack, as the al-Qaeda offshoot ‘The Islamic State of Iraq’ recently revealed its targets when it called for attacks on a number of churches across Egypt. In the past years, al-Qaeda, together with fundamentalist and radical organizations, has targeted Christian minorities so as to expose the frailties of the state on the one hand, and to prompt a Christian exodus on the other, so as to produce ‘pure’ Islamic states. Thus, what happened in Alexandria was not an attack on Egyptian Copts alone, but all Arab Christians in general, in order to rid the Arab region of the ethnic and religious pluralism that distinguishes it.
Precedents were set in the attack carried out by armed militia against 14 Christian homes in al-Amerya, al-Ghadir and al-Dour districts, located in the Iraqi capital Baghdad a few days ago. During these terrorist operations, two people were killed, and seven injured. On the 1st January 2011, a Gaza-based al-Qaeda branch, named “Qaeda al-Jihad in the Land of Rabat”, issued a statement condemning the death sentence issued by a court in the Gaza Strip against a Muslim citizen, who had murdered his Christian friend. The organization condemned the sentence on the basis that the perpetrator’s crime could be classified as “killing a crusader”, despite the fact that the motive for the crime was theft. This means that al-Qaeda would value the life of a Muslim murderer, regardless of the circumstances, simply because his victim was a Christian.
The manner in which the roots of this incident were investigated was particularly striking, throughout the entire world, and in the Islamic region in particular. It was as if we have never known or experienced a situation such as this over the past four decades, in which considerable political figures have been assassinated, and places of coexistence and tolerance have been destroyed. As is usual with every terrorist attack, various moderate and radical religious currents rushed to claim that the Israeli Mossad, the CIA, or a blend of both together along with other hostile forces, were behind the terrorist operation. Everyone knows the theory here; that as long as the enemy benefits from the incident, he must also be the perpetrator. The theory was put forth immediately, so as to draw attention away from the real perpetrators, who are exploiting their corrupt interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence, the roots of which date back to ‘The Assassins’ in the Islamic middle ages, or even earlier, the al-Khawarij group. The fact that our enemies and opponents derive benefits from a particular situation does not necessarily mean we should ignore that there are also those amongst us, to whom we are considered ‘close’ enemies, and in their view we deserve to be terrorized more than ‘distant’ global foes.
The issue here is simply that al-Qaeda no longer operates as a systematic extremist army, carrying out its training and preparation, as was the case with the New York bombings. These days it relies on local elements, when they have reached a degree of extremism and intolerance sufficient enough to make them wish to launch attacks on Alexandria and other cities. For al-Qaeda, this scenario is not only less costly in terms of operations and logistics, but it also benefits from the continued cooperation of local elements. These local groups will continue to feed their concepts of extremist ideology, intolerance, and contempt for others, to a selection of youths that have become disillusioned by society’s moderation, and the capacity of the state. Here we can say that al-Qaeda has set its objective; namely to attack churches and kill Christians. It has provided instructions on how to manufacture home-made deadly explosives, which are capable of provoking tensions far greater than the actual deaths they will cause. Subsequently, the virus will spread until the whole body is contaminated, not only in al-Qeddisin church, but also throughout a wonderful city, nation and homeland.
The battle against terrorism is endemic in the hearts and minds of the region. Successful attempts have previously been made in Cairo and Riyadh, to prompt Islamic Jihadist groups to reconsider their attitudes and jurisprudence. Yet, despite the excellent results, these efforts have not confronted the ideologies which extremist groups are disseminating amongst those still on the road to terrorism. These efforts were unable to reach the new batch of youths being recruited and isolated from the society and the state. As a result, these youths became easy meat for those masterminding horrific terrorist operations, which targeted Muslims before Christians, and mosques before churches. Unfortunately these days, in some circles, suicide has become synonymous with martyrdom, and terrorism with resistance.