Church fires in Egypt: Questions about causes and timings

The outbreak of fires in five Egyptian churches within eight days has raised several questions, especially that most of these fires were blamed on “electricity loads”

Egypt has witnessed fires of varying intensity over the past few days. The most painful one was the disaster that erupted in the “Abu Sefein” church in the Imbaba airport area in Giza, during the Sunday Mass, which killed 42 people, including 18 children and the church priest who continued to pray despite the thick smoke, while15 others were injured.

The last of these fires broke out on Sunday in the Monastery of the Virgin in Mount Dranka, Assiut, Upper Egypt, during the annual celebrations at the end of the “Virgin” fasting, according to a statement by the governorate authorities on Facebook.

Assiut Governorate’s statement stated that a “limited fire” broke out in “some paper waste” and it was brought under control. It pointed out that the fire “did not affect” the conduct of the religious celebration in which thousands were participating.

A day earlier, a fire broke out in the courtyard of St. George’s Church, on Badran Island in Shubra Masr, Cairo , which the authorities described as limited, stressing that it did not result in injuries or casualties, according to Al-Ahram newspaper, quoting security sources.

On Tuesday, the Interior Ministry announced that a fire broke out in the Anba Bishoy Church in Minya, but the civil authorities were able to put it out, without causing any casualties.

The ministry had indicated that the fire broke out due to a short circuit before the Coptic Orthodox Church issued a statement saying that “investigations confirmed that the source of the fire was some candles with which two children were playing inside the Church temple near the altar, but unintentionally”.

Last Monday, a fire broke out in the building of the Church of the Virgin and Anba Mousa Al-Aswad in the Kerdasa area, Giza, where a statement of the Ministry of the Interior attributed to a short circuit in one of the internal electrical panels in the church building.

These four incidents came after the tragic accident in the Abu Sefein Church in the Imbaba area in Giza, which occurred in the morning during a gathering of about a thousand people who had come to attend the mass, causing a tragedy.

In statements last Tuesday on one of the Egyptian satellite channels, DMC, Coptic Pope Tawadros II, who has headed the Coptic Orthodox Church since 2012, said that the area of ​​the church wass small, “only 120 meters and the Coptic density in the area is large”.

He explained that more than a decade ago, “the process of establishing a church was a very stressful process, which led to the construction of small churches that did not meet the needs of Christians”.

He added: “Some people thought that the fires were caused by an active action, but this is not true. Fires occurred simultaneously in Carrefour, in Alexandria, and some shops in Abbas El-Akkad Street”.

Pope Tawadros II, also called the Pope of Alexandria, Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, called for not paying attention to the “rumors and lies” that were circulated on social media in Egypt, against the backdrop of the fire of the “Abu Sefein” church in the Imbaba area, Giza.

However, Anba Morcos, Metropolitan of Shubra El-Kheima, expressed his astonishment at the occurrence of fires during the liturgies in the church in the morning or in the afternoon during the Virgin celebrations.

In a statement to Al-Hurra, Anba Morcos said: “Why are churches in particular, the only places for short circuit incidents to occur, and why do fires occur at a time when people are in the church?”

He added, “Why do officials always blame a short circuit before investigations start? They must wait for concerned authorities to investigate each incident separately and then issue their results…They must tell us the reason so that we can solve the problem and avoid it in the future,” he said.

He continued, “I hope the concerned authorities will study these incidents and explore carefully and tell us the reason. Do the churches not enjoy full civil protection? Is there negligence from the churches? Is there someone behind these events, and who is he?, especially that we have cameras in almost all churches.”

Likewise, Abba Erma said: The church fires in Egypt are a wake-up call for the whole country. What happens in churches is based on organized timings on specific dates. I don’t know why, but I can announce that this is a wake-up call for the whole country. We must come together to be able to pass this crisis. I am not talking about a crisis in economy or high prices … But we must look for the cause of what is happening and stop it for ever.”

However, the security expert and former Assistant Minister of Interior, Major General Mohammad Zaki, said in a statement that “when we look at the incidents that occurred in some Orthodox Christian Church sites, we will find that there are logical reasons”. He added, “In the Abu Sefein Church accident, two officers and two firefighters were seriously injured and are now at the hospital, and a man named Mohamed rescued many of the children in the incident.”