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EGYPT: Mysterious murder with sectarian echoes

May 31, 2008 |  9:01 am


Makram Azer was sitting in his jewelry shop this week in the El Zeitoun neighborhood in Cairo when two gunmen stormed in, killing him and three workers and injuring two. Nothing was stolen.

The murder is far from being seen as a mere crime. The victims were Copts, and that struck a nerve with the Christian community that constitutes about 10% of Egypt's predominantly Sunni Muslim population.

The prosecutor reportedly announced that preliminary investigations showed that no sectarian or terrorist motivations stood behind the crime.

Copts have long complained of religious discrimination, and sensitivities between Muslims and Copts have erupted in violence. In 2006, for example, a knife-wielding assailant attacked three churches in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, killing one and wounding at least 12. The government announced then that the perpetrator was mentally sick, a finding that fell short of convincing Christians. 

With this week's killing, those in the Coptic diaspora have seized the opportunity to shed light on the conditions of their co-religionists at home. Their websites have been following closely the murder and displaying plenty of incendiary comments. Most commentators have accused the government of neglecting violence against Christians, expecting it to put the blame on some sick-minded gangster, as it has done with similar incidents in the past.

"There will be no punishment for the criminals. Christians are slaves in their own country. All these killings happen with the full blessing and planning of Habib Adli [Egypt's interior minister] and his gangsters," read a comment on the United Copts website, which represents a group of hard-line Copts in the diaspora.

"God willing, the perpetrators will be arrested by the police and they will not turn out to be mentally retarded," read a comment on another Coptic website maintained by Copts living in the U.S.

— Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo

Photo: A cartoon commenting on the murder on a Copts website. The officer tells the prosecutor: "Here are the pictures of some mentally retarded men. Your highness can choose one or two of them for this case." Credit: Shafiq Botros / United Copts website