The convicted killer of Archbishop Arsanious Wadid in Alexandria, Egypt was sentenced to death on Saturday (June 11), according to Copts-United.
Nehru Abdel Moneim Tawfiq was sentenced to death after a long session in which the 22ndDistrict Alexandria Criminal Court headed by Waheed Sabry watched surveillance camera video of the murder that took place on the boardwalk near Ishak Helmy beach, Copts-United reported. The verdict came after the court reportedly referred his case to the Mufti of the Republic for an Islamic legal opinion.
Wadid, priest of the Virgin and St. Paul Church in Alexandria, was distributing Ramadan gifts on the promenade to passers-by with a group of youths from his church on April 7 when the assailant stabbed him at least three times in the neck with a knife, according to local press reports. He was 56.
Leaders of both the historical church in Egypt and Islam had played down a religious motive in an attempt to prevent escalation, though Tawfiq shouted the jihadist slogan “Allah Akbar [God is greater]” as he stabbed Wadid, an eyewitness testified at the trial, according to Copts-United. She said Tawfiq hovered around the area for 10 minutes before targeting Wadid because of his priestly garments.
Islamist assailants in Egypt frequently resort to “mental instability” as a legal defense for murder, and Tawfiq asserted that his unstable mental state rendered him unable to control his actions, according to news outlet Ahram Online. Initially Tawfiq made no effort to hide, witnesses testified, and police said he confessed to intentionally killing the priest, but he later claimed that he was not aware of what he was doing and had obtained the knife only for self-defense.
Prosecutors asserted during the trial that evaluations showed he was psychologically sound at the time of the attack, according to Copts-United. The Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Alexandria declared Wadid a martyr.
Such attacks are relatively rare in Egypt, but violence was one reason the country was ranked 20th on Open Doors 2022 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The opening of a new church or rumors of blaspheming Islam have led to mob violence in rural areas.
“In upper Egypt, the local authorities use so-called ‘reconciliation sessions’ to resolve a conflict, which, de facto, often means that Muslim attackers go free,” according to the WWL report. “This has resulted in a culture of impunity for violence against Christians in that area.”
Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the world’s most influential Sunni Islam institution, had condemned the murder of Wadid in a statement on Facebook. Al-Azhar’s Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayyeb said such attacks “might instigate religious wars.”
“The Grand Imam affirms that homicide is a major sin that arouses God’s wrath and is punishable in the afterlife,” read Al-Azhar’s statement.
Egypt, considered a worldwide Islamic leader, is strategically important due to its location in the region and size, along with its historical and diplomatic sway. Christians make up more than 10 percent of Egypt’s population in the Muslim-majority country, and attacks on Christians are common.
While general security in Egypt has improved since President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi was elected in 2014, Christians remain vulnerable to violence and discrimination. Sexual harassment of Coptic Christian women is widespread, and although Al-Sisi uses inclusive language and has begun allowing churches to legally open, in everyday life Christians face opposition.
Egypt headed by Al-Sisi has cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood but also on religious rights defenders like Coptic activist Ramy Kamel. Some fear that Al-Sisi’s repression of the Islamic extremist Muslim Brotherhood, essentially driving members underground, has compelled it to become more radicalized and militant and increased the number of those joining Islamic extremist groups.
“Such developments could lead to a further polarization of society in Egypt and could pose a serious risk to the nation’s stability and the security of Christian Egyptians in the long run,” the WWL report noted. “The current high level of support for President al-Sisi’s regime by a large number of the churches and Christians might also be used against them. Followers of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups are likely to view church buildings and Christians as easy targets to show that the Egyptian government is not able to protect its supporters.”