Wednesday’s papers: Pope Shenouda urges calm, European countries beef up security

Both state-owned and independent papers dedicate their front pages to the latest news related to the bomb attack on an Alexandria church last Saturday.

Al-Ahram’s front-page headline reads: “Islamic and Christian calls for quiet anger.” According to the state-owned paper, the media has issued repeated calls to Copts, who over the past three days have been protesting against the church blast, to follow peaceful means and refrain from provoking any riots.

Last Monday, violent clashes broke out between security forces and Coptic demonstrators who staged a major demonstration in Shubra district.

The report also quotes Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa as saying, “What happened in Alexandria is terrorist action, not sectarian.” Gomaa called on all Egyptians to stand together against sectarian strife for the sake of Egypt’s stability.

Al-Akhbar, another state-owned paper, leads with a headline reading: “Security efforts attribute Alexandria’s terrorist incident to Al-Qaeda.” The paper reports that security sources say foreign hands were behind Saturday’s blast, with forensic medicine showing that a head found at the crime scene had Pakistani or Afghan features.

Al-Qaeda is suspected in the bombing due to its recent threats to attack Egypt’s Christian churches if two women who converted to Islam are not released from alleged detention in monasteries. The threats came following the siege of a Catholic church in Baghdad by the Islamic State of Iraq gunmen last November.

However Al-Shorouk, independent paper, categorically dismisses Al-Akhbar’s claims. The report says that the prosecution denies having found an Afghan head among the victims of the Alex massacre. According to the paper, the suicide bombing claimed 23 lives and injured dozens more.

Al-Shorouk reports that Pope Shenouda III, patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox church, has announced that he will celebrate mass on Coptic Christmas Eve, saying that "cancellation will escalate the crisis.”

In addition, Shenouda said in an interview on government-owned television that he fears the weakness of the “temporary” national unity after the end of the crisis. According to the paper, he also urged the Coptic diaspora to be calm and adhere to the policy of Egyptian church, warning of any riots that could bring about a rejection of Egyptian Copts' demands.

In a related context, Al-Akhbar publishes an article on the tight security measures imposed around Coptic churches ahead of Coptic Christmas Eve in Europe. The report quotes Micheal Riad, the deacon of St. Mark's Coptic Church in Frankfurt, as saying: “We have contacted the Egyptian police and agreed upon imposing heavy security.”

St Mark's Coptic Church is listed as an Al-Qaeda target alongside other churches mentioned in threats on the internet. The report also states that the Islamic State of Iraq has threatened the three main churches in Amsterdam.

In addition, other European countries including France have gone on high alert, increasing security to ensure the safety of worshippers on 6 January.  

Finally, Al-Ahram reports that a state-appointed committee headed by Ahmed Nazif, Egypt's prime minister, has finalized the principal articles of a new bill governing the sale of state land. Council of Ministers spokesman Magdi Radi announced that the the proposed legislation stipulates that all sales of state land must be determined through the legislature in an effort to protect public and private property rights.

Egypt's papers:

Al-Ahram: Daily, state-run, largest distribution in Egypt

Al-Akhbar: Daily, state-run, second to Al-Ahram in institutional size

Al-Gomhorriya: Daily, state-run

Rose al-Youssef: Daily, state-run, close to the National Democratic Party's Policies Secretariat

Al-Dostour: Daily, privately owned

Al-Shorouk: Daily, privately owned

Al-Wafd: Daily, published by the liberal Wafd Party

Al-Arabi: Weekly, published by the Arab Nasserist party

Youm7: Weekly, privately owned

Sawt al-Umma: Weekly, privately owned

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