CAIRO (ChurchMilitant.com) - Cairo's main cathedral for Coptic Christians was bombed on Sunday morning, killing 25 people and wounding 49.
The bomb erupted through seating reserved for female parishioners at the cathedral, killing primarily women and children. The explosion was the deadliest terror attack against the Coptic Christian community in years.
The site of the attack was St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, the center of Egypt's Orthodox Christian Church.
On Sunday, referencing the deadly attacks, Pope Francis remarked, "I want to express my special closeness to my dear brother, Pope Tawadros II, Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, and to his community, praying for the dead and injured."
An Egyptian assistant minister for health, Sherief Wadee, confirmed that most of the dead were women and children. President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has declared three days of national mourning in the wake of the bombing.
This isn't the first time the Christian population in Egypt has come under attack. In fact, in recent years, the Coptic Christian community has come under increasing persecution from the Muslim majority.
Alaa Al Aswany, a bestselling author from Egypt, blames the persecution in part on the rise of a strict interpretation of Islamic beliefs in the Middle East. He writes,
The other reason for the Copts' woes is the spread of the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam in Egypt, whether by the millions of Egyptians who worked in the Gulf and then returned with their Wahhabi-like thinking, or through Wahhabi associations which spend millions of pounds to spread their ideas in Egypt.
He goes on to write,
Moreover, a Muslim who has killed a Copt cannot be put to death, according to the Wahhabis, as a Muslim and a nonbelieving Copt cannot be considered equal. These dreadful notions that would be considered hate crimes in any civilized state are now being spread surreptitiously but are being pronounced by preachers in mosques and distributed among the people in printed form.
In recent years, there have been many incidents of persecution and terrorism carried out against the Copt community by Islamic militants and by the Egyptian government.
One of the most infamous attacks in recent memory is the Maspero Massacre, which occurred in October 2011. In reaction to the demolition of a Christian church by Islamic Salafists, Copts took to the streets to protest the demolition and the government's lack of action in protecting their house of worship.
According to Coptic Solidarity, an advocacy organization for the Coptic community,
As the demonstrators approached their destination, they were attacked by Islamist fanatic mobs that laid waiting and hurled stones at them from the top of traffic bridges. Egyptian Army forces intercepted the demonstrators who found themselves caught between them and the Islamists mobs. The Egyptian Army then attacked them using riot gear, batons, live ammunition and armored vehicles which were used to brutally murder the demonstrators by running them over.
The Maspero Massacre ended with 27 Copts killed and 327 injured in the space of an hour.
In addition to violent attacks, Copts face routine discrimination and are treated as second-class citizens.
According to Anba Makarius, bishop of Minya and Abu-Qurqas, the Coptic community faces discrimination when it comes to job opportunities in the government and in the wider society. He remarked, "Everyone ought to have an equal chance to jobs."
Makarius has also criticized Article 98 of Egypt's constitution, which has been used to target Christians over the years. Article 98 concerns religious defamation, and carries a six-month to five-year penalty for "making use of religion in propagating, either by words, in writing, or in any other means, extreme ideas for the purpose of inciting strife, ridiculing or insulting a heavenly religion or a sect following it, or damaging national unity." This law has led to excessive penalties for those who have mocked or criticized Islam, in particular Christians.
In June 2014, Kyrellos Shawqi Attalla was given a six-year prison sentence for a Facebook "like" seen as anti-Islamic. According to Makarius, Article 98 has been used to punish people unfairly and excessively.
Makarius commented, "We could accept the current article, no matter how harsh, were it applied evenhandedly. But it seems to only apply to Christians." Referencing the unfair treatment Copts receive, Makarius went on to say, "Among other illnesses, Egypt is diseased with discrimination."