Five years after a deadly bombing that took the lives of 23 people, the Two Saints Church in Alexandria was filled with Christian worshippers on Thursday night for the New Year’s Eve service – the same midnight mass service that was attacked as church-goers welcomed the start of 2011.
This year’s service included a video of church-goers mainly saying, “We are not afraid.” Their message echoes with that of the many others who made it to church on Thursday, despite the dreaded memory of the Two Saints attack.
This sense of resistance associated with the memory of the attack is accompanied by some ambiguity regarding the way in which the state has dealt with the case.
Five years after the attacks, the case has not been referred to the prosecution, mainly because there have been no defendants.
“The Ministry of Interior never submitted the results of the investigations it conducted on the attack to the prosecutor,” Joseph Malak, the lawyer representing the families of the deceased, told Mada Masr.
“We filed a case demanding that the Ministry of Interior submit its findings,” Malak adds. “It’s the first case of its kind and it is being heard at the Administrative Court now. We only have the legal path to pursue.”
“It is as though there is a concerted effort to close this case,” Malak adds, deeming it a grave situation, given that the attacks represent “a breach of national security.”
Former Minister of Interior Habib al-Adly, during whose tenure the attacks took place, has declared that 19 suspects were arrested and later released due to lack of evidence against them, Malak said.
Adly also broadly attributed the attacks to the Palestinian Army of Islam militia, without giving further evidence.
Mina Thabet, head of the minorities and vulnerable groups program at the Egyptian Commission for Human Rights, says that the failure of Egypt’s security apparatus in unveiling those behind the attacks is a manifestation of weaknesses in its criminal investigations function.
“The alternative is that the security apparatus itself is implicated in the attacks,” he says, a scenario that was discussed shortly after the bombing.
Major media outlets discussed the possibility that Adly himself was implicated in the bombings, arguing that it was a plot to perpetuate the belief that Christians were under attack and so needed to seek protection from the state, submitting to the authority of the regime at the time.
The families of the deceased have spiritually come to terms with the loss of their loved ones, Malak says: “They died in church, while praying, so they are considered martyrs.”
That said, they are keen on seeking justice, Malak retorts.
Fekry Naguib is the husband of Sonia Soliman and father of Mariam and Martina. All three died in the attacks. He believes in the importance of the case. “We all want to know what happened.”
“Some people in the authorities must be implicated, to be so determined to hide the facts,” he says, adding that while he acknowledges the efforts of the current regime in preserving national security, no real change in the country will take place without the truth being revealed.
He also says that if the Army of Islam is behind the case, then why have their members not been prosecuted?
“I send a message to [President Abdel Fattah] al-Sisi. He is the only one today with the power to give instructions for the continuation of the investigations. We are a state of institutions. The successors of [Former President Hosni] Mubarak are not relieved from [investigating] the attacks,” he says.
Naguib points out that Sisi was the head of military intelligence when the attack took place, and also minister of defense shortly before becoming president.
“If he can’t find out what happened, who can?” he wonders.
He reaffirms that he is thankful for everything the president has done so far, but this case remains marred with an inexplicable obscurity.
“The president, who is hiding important information from his people, is no different from his predecessors,” Naguib says.
The quest for justice over the Two Saints bombing has not united members of the broader Christian community. Some are more militant on the issue than others.
“The attacks were a turning point for me,” Thabet says. “They are what prompted me to engage with public affairs.”
Thabet went on to build youth initiatives demanding Christians’ rights on the basis of citizenship, such as the Maspero Youth Union. But while he continued to engage by working in the human-rights field and by addressing the foes of sectarianism through a rights-based and citizenship lens, this has not been everyone’s experience.
He argues that many Christians were militant about seeking justice for the victims of the Two Saints bombing, especially during the January 25 revolution. He cites examples of Christian protests around that time during which people chanted against then President Hosni Mubarak and Adly.
But their subsequent fear of the rise to power of Islamists made them less demanding in the search for justice, especially as the security apparatus was seen as battling with Islamist militants following the toppling of the Muslim Brotherhood government, Thabet argues.
Magdi Mourad, a businessman from the Cairene district of Zeytoun, which is known for its large Christian population, was among those present during the bomb attack. He takes an entirely different view of events, saying “there is no one to blame” for the lack of a prosecution case or defendants.
“There is no guilt on the part of the security apparatus,” he says.
The only thing he remembers of the dark night of the attack is the priest calling on the frightened attendees to calm down, saying, “Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid!”