Geopolitics

What Is Left? Anger In Aftermath Of Cairo’s Church Bombing

Worshipers at the Coptic Church pray for the dead and lash out at both perpetrators and Egyptian authorities. 'They always told us to pray for those who hate and kill us. But I can’t do that anymore,' says one.

Inside Cairo's Coptic Cathedral on Dec. 11
Karoline Kamel

CAIRO — Shards of stained glass and red brick line the floor of the nave of St. Peter and St. Paul Church, and the smell of blood has replaced the familiar perfumed odors of religious office that had hovered only a few minutes before a 12-kilogram improvised explosive device detonated among the congregation.

A woman in tears stands just inside the door of the Abbasseya Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, the main site of religious ritual for Egypt's largest Christian minority. "Why, Virgin Mary?" she cries out. "We don't expect this from you."

December 11 of the Gregorian calendar fell during the Coptic calendar's month of Koiak, which is devoted to the Virgin Mary as the Nativity occurs in the month's final days. Coptic Christians spend time throughout Koiak in church, praying and signing hymns for the religious figure.

The bomb detonated minutes before the Eucharist was offered to the congregation at Sunday's service, a fact Tadros Zaki, a church deacon, says indicates that attack was well planned.

"The bombing happened just before communion, when the church is most crowded as people flock into the hall to receive the sacrament. The choice of this time would ensure the highest casualty count. Mass starts at 8 am, and the bombing happened at 10 minutes before 10 am," he says.

Zaki sits on one of the stone benches inside the church's playground. His deacon robes ornamented with signs marking his religious position rest beside him in a plastic bag. Still bewildered, he begins to slowly recount the day's events.

"For a quarter of an hour, we could see nothing but dust and smoke. The ceiling was falling on our heads, and we didn't know whether we should wait or leave. Women and children were screaming, but we couldn't reach out to them. It took three people to open the wooden church door, which had broken in the blast. Who can accept this?" Zaki asks.

The St. Peter and St. Paul Church is designed in the style of a Roman basilica and represents a trace of a bygone era in Cairo. It was built by the well known family of Boutros-Ghali, who served as Egypt's prime minister between 1908 and 1911 and upon whose tomb the church was constructed. St Peter and St. Paul Church is also the final resting place of the latest deceased member of the family, former United Nation's Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

Police and church officials survey the damage after the explosion — Photo: Sima Diab/ZUMA

Seeking mercy

The physical signs of the church's history were fundamentally changed by Sunday's explosion. The murals representing the Stations of the Cross have been distorted. The window frames that once housed stained glass are now empty portals to the outside world. Women's shoes, children's clothing and personal belongings are strewn about the wreckage, variously stained by the blood that is a reminder of the carnage of Sunday morning. People gathered these cast-aside items into a corner, a sign of respect for their former owners, who have either died or are in critical condition. Nuns look on in disbelief and profound sadness at what remains of candles lit in front of an icon. They ask for mercy for the families of those deceased.

"They always told us to pray for those who hate and kill us. But I can't do that anymore. I don't know what to say in my prayers. Any talk from the fathers or the pope that God is the one who protects us is simply turning away from responsibility," Zaki says. "I cannot live without resisting, while knowing that my life is in danger. How could such an amount of explosives enter the church without being scrutinized by security? Do they only send us security personnel to stand by the door, drink tea and harass women?"

With a touch of the conspiracy theories so prevalent in Egypt, the deacon adds that he thinks militants have infiltrated the security forces. It is a fact, he says, that is only exacerbated by church officials abnegating responsibility.

A woman in her 50s wearing all black joins the conversation. She sits next to Zaki on the stone bench and says she was present at the morning service. She asks him if he has heard whether Am Nabil, the church's porter, had died. Zaki confirms that the man has been killed, and she prays to ask for mercy for him.

"He has three daughters," Zaki says. "We called his brother to come. If the wood of the church benches was cut into such small pieces, I wonder what happened to people's bodies. I won't forget Emad, our friend and my fellow deacon, who watched his wife and daughter blown apart."

"You work for the media? Right?" he continues. "Stop writing conspiracies and bullshit. Tell the officials that we don't believe it anymore. And if you say that the police and the Armed Forces face the same type of attacks, that's because of their failure. We are paying the price."

Zaki's anger was mirrored in the palpable energy emitting from the crowd surrounding the church after the bombing.

Dozens of vehicles representing the Central Security Forces, fire department, medical personnel and the Armed Forces were deployed to the front of the cathedral. Clashes erupted between security forces and people trying to pass into the church's entrance, which had been closed off by metal barriers to halt the passage of cars and pedestrians.

Where was the security?

"We thought the building was collapsing and ran away. Then, we saw smoke and dust coming out of the church, that the ceiling was falling and the glass from the windows was flying off. We went into the church and couldn't see anything because of the dust. After it settled, we saw something similar to horror movies: people's body parts scattered about and blood and remains on the church's columns. There was no security at the door at all, and, even when they're there, they don't do anything. They don't ask anyone where they're going or what they're carrying. Why are they coming now?" says Rawy Khalab who works as a cashier at a juice store positioned opposite to the church.

While anger was the predominant mood, the crowd struggles to find a target for its outrage. Several women begin denouncing the Muslim Brotherhood. "Listen, Muslim Brotherhood. You will not take Sinai. Execution for every coward," they say. "The people want execution for the Brotherhood."

However, the crowd doesn't respond to the chants, and they eventually die out. Another group of woman begin chanting against the police, but this also fails to garner support.

At last, the crowded alights upon its target, demanding the removal of Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar.

Several in the crowd were angered by the Interior Ministry and Health Ministry's use of the word "victims' rather than "martyrs' in the ministries' statements that were broadcast on state-television.

Those gathered also turned their anger at several prominent media figures known to support President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's government — including Ahmed Moussa, Lamis al-Hadidy and Riham Saeed — barring them from reporting on the incident and expelling them from the crowd.

Sporadic chants of "Muslims and Christians are united in one hand" sprung up in the crowd. However, the majority refused to join in to the calls for unity.

"This means nothing now," one man said.

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Economy

Merkel's Legacy: The Rise And Stall Of The German Economy

How have 16 years of Chancellor Angela Merkel changed Germany? The Chancellor accompanied the country's rise to near economic superpower status — and then progress stalled. On technology and beyond, Germany needs real reforms under Merkel's successor.

Chancellor Angela Merkel looks at the presentation of the current 2 Euro commemorative coin ''Brandenburg''

Daniel Eckert

BERLIN — Germans are doing better than ever. By many standards, the economy broke records during the reign of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel: private households' financial assets have climbed to a peak; the number of jobs recorded a historic high before the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020; the GDP — the sum of all goods and services produced in a period — also reached an all-time high.

And still, while the economic balance sheet of Merkel's 16 years is outstanding if taken at face value, on closer inspection one thing catches the eye: against the backdrop of globalization, Europe's largest economy no longer has the clout it had at the beginning of the century. Germany has fallen behind in key sectors that will shape the future of the world, and even the competitiveness of its manufacturing industries shows unmistakable signs of fatigue.

In 2004, a year before Merkel was first elected Chancellor, the British magazine The Economist branded Germany the "sick man of Europe." Ironically, the previous government, a coalition of center-left and green parties, had already laid the foundations for recovery with some reforms. Facing the threat of high unemployment, unions had held back on wage demands.

"Up until the Covid-19 crisis, Germany had achieved strong economic growth with both high and low unemployment," says Michael Holstein, chief economist at DZ Bank. However, it never made important decisions for its future.

Another economist, Jens Südekum of Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, offers a different perspective: "Angela Merkel profited greatly from the preparatory work of her predecessor. This is particularly true regarding the extreme wage restraint practiced in Germany in the early 2000s."

Above all, Germany was helped in the first half of the Merkel era by global economic upheaval. Between the turn of the millennium and the 2011-2012 debt crisis, emerging countries, led by China, experienced unprecedented growth. With many German companies specializing in manufacturing industrial machines and systems, the rise of rapidly industrializing countries was a boon for the country's economy.

Germany dismissed Google as an over-hyped tech company.

Digital competitiveness, on the other hand, was not a big problem in 2005 when Merkel became chancellor. Google went public the year before, but was dismissed as an over-hyped tech company in Germany. Apple's iPhone was not due to hit the market until 2007, then quickly achieved cult status and ushered in a new phase of the global economy.

Germany struggled with the digital economy, partly because of the slow expansion of internet infrastructure in the country. Regulation, lengthy start-up processes and in some cases high taxation contributed to how the former economic wonderland became marginalized in some of the most innovative sectors of the 21st century.

Volkswagen's press plant in Zwickau, Germany — Photo: Jan Woitas/dpa/ZUMA

"When it comes to digitization today, Germany has a lot of catching up to do with the relevant infrastructure, such as the expansion of fiber optics, but also with digital administration," says Stefan Kooths, Director of the Economic and Growth Research Center at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW Kiel).

For a long time now, the country has made no adjustments to its pension system to ward off the imminent demographic problems caused by an increasingly aging population. "The social security system is not future-proof," says Kooths. The most recent changes have come at the expense of future generations and taxpayers, the economist says.

Low euro exchange rates favored German exports

Nevertheless, things seemed to go well for the German economy at the start of the Merkel era. In part, this can be explained by the economic downturn caused by the euro debt crisis of 2011-2012. Unlike in the previous decade, the low euro exchange rate favored German exports and made money flow into German coffers. And since then-European Central Bank president Mario Draghi's decision to save the euro "whatever it takes" in 2012, this money has become cheaper and cheaper.

In the long run, these factors inflated the prices of real estate and other sectors but failed to contribute to the future viability of the country. "With the financial crisis and the national debt crisis that followed, economic policy got into crisis mode, and it never emerged from it again," says DZ chief economist Holstein. Policy, he explains, was geared towards countering crises and maintaining the status quo. "The goal of remaining competitive fell to the background, as did issues concerning the future."

In the traditional field of manufacturing, the situation deteriorated significantly. The Institut der Deutschen Wirtschaft (IW), which regularly measures and compares the competitiveness of industries in different countries, recently concluded that German companies have lost many of the advantages they had gained. The high level of productivity, which used to be one of the country's strengths, faltered in the years before the pandemic.

Kooths, of IfW Kiel, points out that private investment in the German economy has declined in recent years, while the "government quota" in the economy, which describes the amount of government expenditure against the GDP, grew significantly during Merkel's tenure, from 43.5% in 2005 to 46.5% in 2019. Kooths concludes that: "Overall, the state's influence on economic activity has increased significantly."

Another very crucial aspect of competitiveness, at least from the point of view of skilled workers and companies, has been neglected by German politics for years: taxes and social contributions. The country has among the highest taxes on income in Europe, and corporate taxes are also hardly as high as in Germany anywhere in the industrialized world. "In the long run, high tax rates always come at the expense of economic dynamism and can even prevent new companies from being set up," warns Kooths.

Startups can renew an economy and lay the foundation for future prosperity. Between the year 2000 and the Covid-19 crisis, fewer and fewer new companies were created every year. Economists from left to right are unanimous: Angela Merkel is leaving behind a country with considerable need for reform.

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