Muslim Human Shields to Protect Egyptian Christians


“The terrorist attack on Alexandria church was highly planned and professionally executed and the culprits seemed to have worked out a thoroughly detailed operation but they missed out on one vital detail, namely the culture and traditions of Egyptians”

By Dr. Ashraf Ezzat / Staff Writer

Egyptian Muslims raising the Bible & Quran side by side while forming human shields around a church.

How would you define culture?

.. For some people, culture stands for excellence of taste in fine arts and humanities. But for academics it is far more than just appreciating the music of Beethoven or memorizing lines by Shakespeare.

Culture is defined by scholars as an integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning. While others refer to it as the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group. Either ways, both definitions of culture happened to be true and have been actualized lately by the Egyptian people in their unique and unprecedented reaction to the latest terrorist attack on the Alexandria church on the New Year’s Eve.

The bombing attack on the church which left 23 killed and around 80 wounded was a tragic incident for Egyptians to start the New Year 2011 with. The terrorist operation was new to Egyptians not only in its magnitude but regarding its target as well. Christians in Egypt – 15% of population- have never been the target of that kind of violence before.

Yes, there were sporadic and individual incidents of sectarian friction and tension in Egypt between Muslims and Copts- Egyptian orthodox Christians-but those incidents were mainly caused by reasons other than religious intolerance like disputes over land or secret affairs and marriages between Muslim and Christians.

That’s why those previous incidents never gained wider attention on the side of the average Egyptian. The media may have elaborated on an incident like the one took place in Upper Egypt -Nag Hammadi- last Christmas, but when it came down to man in the street, most Egyptians knew that this incident exacerbated due to an alleged case of rape by a Christian of a Muslim young girl. Those sporadic incidents never alarmed the wider range of Egyptians; deep down Egyptians felt that they never carried a real threat to their society nor to their national unity. Many might disagree with me here, but those incidents were always individual in nature and they went by and things were back to business as usual again.

Foreign covert organization suspected

But that was not the case with the Alexandria church bombing, something was different, something alarming, something that grabbed the concern of every Egyptian, Muslim and Christian.

… This time the incident was far from being sporadic or called a tribal dispute, the bombing of the church seemed obviously preplanned and carefully targeting the very heart of Egyptian unity. It was as if every home in Egypt heard the sound of the blast and felt the terror it left behind. It was as if every home in Egypt had lost a loved one in the attack on the church.

The attacked Alexandria church and the adjacent mosque.

 Egyptians this time, were in no need for further investigations by the authorities or more reporting by the media, the people in Egypt could detect – with their cultural antennae- that a foreign covert organization was behind this deadly attack and that this operation was not about killing 23 innocent Egyptians more than it was about destabilizing the country by creating irreparable fissure to the unity amongst Muslims and Christians in Egypt. 

The terrorist attack was highly planned and professionally executed and the culprits seemed to have worked out a thoroughly detailed operation but they missed out on one vital detail, namely the culture and traditions of Egyptians.

The unexpected reaction

According to plan, the blast was supposed to be followed by riots and widespread violence that hopefully would have lead to sectarian violence and may be war between Muslims and Christians in Egypt.

The culprits had brilliantly chosen a big church that happened to be 5 meters- across the street- away from an adjacent and similarly big mosque. This was no coincidence, the culprits knew what they were doing, they wanted to create the direct and instant link between the blast and Muslims in Egypt.   They even used the same technique that had been employed in the famous bombings that happened in Egypt 1954 which targeted the stability of Egypt and created a sense of public unrest in what is known as the “Lavon affair” carried out by the Israeli Mossad agency and which was supposed to be blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood group. Likewise, the Church blast is going to be blamed on some Muslim extremist group.

But the way Egyptians reacted to this terrorist operation has been the real surprise especially to the culprits and conspirators behind the church attack. No riots or clashes between Christians and Muslims took place, only people took to the streets to denounce the shameful attack and to express the everlasting solidarity between Muslims and Christians in Egypt as equal citizens of the same country and who have been living and coexisting in harmony and peace for over 1400 years now.

What the terrorist missed out was the fact that they were targeting the people who go back a long way in history and civilization. One of the first social orders in history emerged in Egypt. People in Egypt don’t just brag about relating to a 7000 years old culture without proving or showing it to the world. And prove it they did, and as in times of hardship, the real Egyptians were always ready to reveal what they are made of.

 As the Christians in Egypt were preparing to celebrate their Christmas on January 7th – according to the Coptic Church calendar- amidst fears of another and similar deadly attack grief and insecurity were everywhere and the danger of suspected planted bombs was hovering over almost every church gate in Egypt.

Muslim girl celebrating the Christmas with her Christian friend in a vigil gathering protected by human shields

The government has increased tightened security measures around all churches but nothing alleviated the sense of impending danger the Christians felt except the ingenious idea of an Egyptian Muslim artist – Mohamed El Sawy- who called for Egyptian Muslims to form human shields – by standing close to each other joined hand in hand in large circles -that would encircle and practically shield every church in a clear message to the world that solidarity between Egyptian Christians and Muslims is hard to be interrupted or sabotaged.

It was a gesture that thousands of Egyptians welcomed and embraced. On the Christmas night the fears the Egyptian Christians had over attending the Christmas mass vanished to be replaced by the warmth and sincerity displayed by their fellow citizens of Muslims who joined in to celebrate the Christmas with them.  It was the first time for some Muslims to attend the Christmas prayers with their fellow Christians but they felt they had to take a stand and make an obvious statement. They had to tell everybody that civilized people don’t yield to terrorism plan that easily. And this is what civilized people do when they confront danger; they embrace each other and protect one another. They rally in demonstrations of love and solidarity yelling out the slogan “we live together or die together”.

 They keep a social order as old as the pyramids intact and looked after.

For more articles by Dr. Ashraf Ezzat visit his website at :


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Ashraf Ezzat is an Egyptian born in Cairo and based in Alexandria. He graduated from the faculty of Medicine at Alexandria University. Keen not to be entirely consumed by the medical profession, Dr. Ezzat invests a lot of his time in research and writing. History of the ancient Near East and of Ancient Egypt has long been an area of special interest to him. In his writings, he approaches ancient history not as some tales from the remote times but as a causative factor in our existing life; and to him, it's as relevant and vibrant as the current moment. In his research and writings, Dr. Ezzat is always on a quest trying to find out why the ancient wisdom had been obstructed and ancient spirituality diminished whereas the Judeo-Christian teachings and faith took hold and prospered. Dr. Ezzat has written extensively in Arabic tackling many issues and topics in the field of Egyptology and comparative religion. He is the author of Egypt knew no Pharaohs nor Israelites. He writes regularly at many well-known online websites such as Dissident Voice and What Really Happened. Dr. Ezzat is also an independent filmmaker. His debut film was back in 2011 The Annals of Egypt Revolution and in 2012 he made Tale of Osiris a short animation for children. In 2013 his short The Pyramids: story of creation was screened at many international film festivals in Europe. And he is working now on his first documentary "Egypt knew no Pharaohs nor Israelites".