(BBC) As tensions rise again in Egypt, the country’s Christians are dreading a further backlash. The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of Christianity’s oldest, founded in Alexandria around 50 AD.
But since President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood were removed from power by the military in early July, Islamist extremists have targeted Egypt’s Christian minority, holding them partly responsible. The Coptic Pope, Tawadros II, has received death threats, while several Christians have been killed.
At St Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo on Sunday, dozens of children gathered for Bible study. Security at the gates was tight, after an attack there earlier this year. Last Tuesday, 10-year-old Jessi Boulus was walking home from her Bible class in a working-class area of the capital when a gunman killed her with a single shot to the chest.
For Jessi’s parents, the grief is still almost too raw for words. She was their only child. Both try but cannot hold back the tears as they describe their daughter. Her mother, Phoebe, believes that she was targeted purely because she was Christian.
“She was my best friend, my everything. Jessi was just becoming a young woman,” she says. “Every woman dreams of becoming a mother, and for 10 years I was lucky enough to be a mum. I’ll miss Jessi calling me mum – I know I won’t ever hear it again.” Jessi’s father, Boulus, veers between grief and despair, as he recalls the hatred that changed their lives forever.
“Jessi was everything to us. Her killers didn’t know that Jessi was my life – my future. They killed our future. I lived for her. We both did,” he says, unable to conceal his emotion. The couple say that in recent months, Jessi had begun to worry about her own safety, aware of the tensions on the streets. The family had talked about emigrating, but made a conscious decision to remain in Egypt, their home.
Boulus, though, says that a climate of increasing intolerance created by Islamic fundamentalism led to his daughter’s and other deaths. “I’m telling you in the West that your taxes and government money go towards supporting the killing here – by funding Islamist political parties.”