Sunday, August 14, 2022

The Black Sunday Mass: Notes on Abu Sefein church tragedy

Egypt woke up to a tragedy on Sunday. At least 41 Egyptians including children died in a fire at a Giza church earlier Sunday.

14 others are injured including four in critical condition in the fire that erupted at Abu Sefein Coptic Orthodox Church in Imbaba district, Giza governorate.

Many children and the elderly died in the fire due to suffocation from smoke. We lost about 18 children in this fire.

Giza's Abu Sefein church
Giza's Abu Sefein church after the fire by Khaled Desouki for AFP

The victims include children as young as 3 years old “Ibram Tamer Wagih” and elderly as old as 75 years old “Farg Kamal Farg”. 

I got a victim list for the deceased who were transferred to Imababa General hospital and shockingly there are many children who are siblings including triplets “Mehrael, Youssef, Philopater Bassam Amir” as well as twins “Barsina and Mariam” and their young brother “Ibram Tamer Wagih” in addition of their mother, aunt and grandmother !!

The Wagih siblings
The Wagih siblings died along with their mom, aunt and grandma

The Wagihs lost a lot in this fire in a way that I can’t comprehend or imagine. Three generations in a few minutes. It is one of the worst if not the worst fire incidents in Egypt in the last ten years if I recall.

Early reports say that it happened due to the malfunction in electricity during Sunday’s divine liturgy.

The fire was caused by a short circuit that took place at Abu Sefein Coptic Orthodox Church according to both the Public Prosecution and the Ministry of the interior.

The Ministry of Interior announced its statement or rather conclusion at 12:50 PM based on the Civil Protection and survivors’ statements.

The churchmen also confirmed that it was caused due a short circuit. The Prosecution has not yet released its final statement but its early statements to the media speak about that.

Why did no one wait till the end of the investigation before saying it was caused by a short circuit?

Aside from it seems to be what happened for real according to the churchmen and the survivors, it has to do with the day itself. "Summer's short circuits are like a curse in Egypt, especially on hot days"

Today is the 14th of August, the anniversary of the bloody dispersal of Pro-President Morsi’s sits-in in Egypt commonly known as Rabaa on 14th August 2013. Many feared that the accident would be retaliation from late Morsi’s Islamist supporters, especially in 2013 following the bloody dispersal, churches, especially in Upper Egypt, were attacked then. By the way, no one brings this up but everybody knows, it is like the "We do not speak about Bruno" situation publicly.

Abu Sefein Church
Abu Sefein Church or Saint Mercurius of the two sword church in Imbaba
Mohamed Abdel Hamid for Andolu 

We do not have to go with Daesh’s bloody record of attacks against Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox  Christians, the Middle East's largest Christian community in the past years to know there was fear indeed.

Yet due to the delay in Egyptian mainstream media coverage, many began to have their own conspiracy theories of all sorts as I have seen online.

The ambulance received a call about the fire and the victims at 8.57 AM and it arrived at 8.59 AM according to the Health Ministry spokesperson Hossam Abdel Ghaffar’s statements to the media.

The government says that the fire engines and firefighters arrived on time as soon as they received the call but the locals that they arrived late by two hours.

Some say that this is due to the narrow streets of the area the church is located but still the locals do not buy this excuse. 

The fire engines in the neighborhood
The fire engines in the neighborhood by Islam Safwat 

The first news about the fire in the Egyptian mainstream media was published at 10:41 AM on Cairo 24 news website about three fire engines sent to put off a fire at Abu Sefein Church in Imbaba but it did not catch attention.

Updated at 15/8 : A CCTV video circulated on Monday online capturing the last moments in the church showing the priest continuing the mass without stopping when the smoke was all over the place insisting that people continue to stay at their places allegedly till he finished. 

The church confirmed the video and many blamed the priest who died actually in the fire trying to save the children saying that he could have saved more if he stopped the mass.  

The public attention paid attention when the social media accounts of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi published his condolences to the families of the victims and how he was following the developments of the accident closely at 11.45 AM on Twitter.

El-Sisi is already in New Al-Alamein city attending the swearing-in of 13 new ministers after Saturday’s cabinet reshuffle.

At nearly 12 PM the Egyptian news websites and channels began to cover the news.

Aside from the coverage of Extra news and Nile News which is not to be compared with Al Jazeera which has not got a direct correspondent in the country yet, the Egyptian TV channels seem to be as always in a parallel universe airing their usual program.

Two brothers from the victims of
the fire
“I know at night we will find the wage of the News night talk show hosts will present a sad act and will wear black ties and dresses, but it is just provoking. The national mourning has not been declared yet but the new Minister of Culture Nivene El-Kilany delayed the inauguration of some cultural festivals in Cairo for three days.”

That delay in news coverage led to conspiracy theories that it is not an electrical malfunction, and it was a terrorist act unfortunately as you give some people to use their imagination.

It is not terrorism that kills only in Egypt, negligence kills more and on a daily basis with no discrimination whatsoever, unfortunately. It is the truth.

One look at the church inside from the photos and videos, and you will see that there are no emergency exits or fire sprinklers. It is a narrow building that does not look like a Church but rather like any residential building in a highly populated working-class area full of informal buildings with narrow streets.

According to the locals, it was a residential building that turned into a church and that brings us to the old problem of building and licensing churches in Egypt. We are paying its price.

When Egyptian Churches used to wait for like decades to be granted approval from the President to build a church in certain areas with a growing Christian population, Egyptian Christians turned their homes and buildings into Churches.

Those Churches are not originally built as churches or even as service buildings especially in the poor working-class areas, to be frank. The class problem also plays a role here as usual like in any other thing in Egypt but again "We do not speak about Bruno" 

Coptic Orthodox Church says that the Church is fully equipped with safety measures, but I am sorry photos and testimonies say otherwise.

We thought that this problem was solved somehow with the 2016 Church Construction law, but it seems that the problem is not solved yet. The Egyptian regimes neglected this problem of church construction issue and we are paying its price too.

The victims' funeral
From the funerals of the victims Sunday night 
Negligence and neglect kill.

May Allah bless the souls of the victims of 14th August and bring patience to their beloved ones.

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