Middle East and North Africa

Christians despair over the killing of Coptic priest

Father Samaan Shehata, 40, priest at the church in Beni Suef community, ran to a steel warehouse in an attempt to
save himself as forty-year-old Ahmed El-Sonbaty, a Muslim, stabbed him to death with a sword.

Father Samaan Shehata

Ayman Fathy, the owner of the steel warehouse, said of the attack on 12 October: “I arrived 15 minutes after the incident. A client called to tell me there was a fight. A minute later he told me someone had been killed, so I came to see what had happened,” said Fathy, explaining that a man showed him the sheath of the which was taken to the Central Security Forces headquarters.

Egypt’s prosecutor-general referred the case to Cairo criminal court. Ahmed’s evidence against him include, a confession, witness statements, and forensic evidence.

But not many people in Egypt think the killing deserved the attention it has gained. Khaled Abdel Aziz Fahmy, Member of Parliament, representing the Free Egyptians Party, said, “The death of Father Samaan Shehata is a simple and ordinary matter that happens everywhere in the world. Making a big deal out of it is a conspiracy. Christians of Egypt support the state and know there is a conspiracy against it.”

For many Christians, such an attitude justifies their scepticism about the kind of justice Copts face in Egypt. Ihab Ishaq, 40 said when Christians are killed, the killers are dismissed as ‘crazy’ and the case dismissed. “The person who killed two Christians in a train was crazy. We got used to this, and are expecting (the killer of Saeed) will soon be released too.”

He said,  “We don’t want to be unfair to anyone, but Ahmed Saeed is not crazy, he’s a religious extremist,” Ishaq added.

Saeed’s neighbours say his aggression towards Christians is not dissimilar to that of his father. Saeed’s father used to stop children on their way back from church and say: “You are multiplying, may God destroy your houses and burn you all. You have filled our neighborhood with filth.”

Saleeb, Shehata’s father in law, said in a TV interview: “We have a martyr, but the situation can’t continue. As priests, we need to feel that we live in a country where there is safety and stability, and to feel we exist as humans, as Egyptians.”

CCTV footage of the killing of Samaan

Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, reacting to the killing, said “Why should a priest not be able to walk safely down a street, especially a suburban street in Cairo? Why should he be chased by a man brandishing a deadly weapon and have no one run to his aid; in actual fact, everyone was running away. Why, when he lay drenched in his own blood, did the ambulance service not arrive for over an hour, and then not treat him?

“Why, when the police finally arrived, and he lay dead, was a crime scene not secured and forensic evidence not
collected to enable a robust and serious investigation? Why is his assailant immediately deemed mentally incapable without professional diagnosis; and why, if he is incapable, and a known violent criminal, is he left in the community with weapons within his reach?”

Bishop Angelos stressed that “Crime cannot be totally eradicated, but at least it needs to be properly investigated, prosecuted, and shown to be a violation against the whole state and not Copts.

The Islamic State (IS) in the Peninsula have also continuously targeted and murdered Coptic Christians in the Northern Sinai; a Coptic Orthodox priest at the Mar Girgis (St George) Church in el-Arish, northern Sinai, Fr Rafael Moussa, 46, was shot in the head and died instantly, in 2016, while standing outside a car-repair shop near the church. IS described him as a “disbelieving combatant”.

In July 2013, three days after the military toppled President Mohammed Morsi, Fr Mina Aboud Sharween was killed by gunmen in el-Arish. A month later, Islamist militants torched dozens of churches in revenge attacks for the killing of Morsi supporters by police during clashes in Cairo.


Hassan John is West Africa Editor, GCN and Priest of Anglican Diocese of Jos

Image Credits: CC: Google images/CCTV footage youtube image/Samaan and baby/Samaan