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IMPLICATIONS OF GIZA CHURCH FIRE

Alyssa Schmidt, Jennifer Radlinsky, Breyona Woods, Megan Bilney, Emergency Management, Health, and Hazards (EMH2) Team

Valentina Topatigh, Editor; Manja Vitasovic, Senior Editor

August 22, 2022


Coptic Church[1]


Geographical Area | Egypt

Countries Affected | Egypt


A fire at the Martyr Abu Sefein church in the Imbaba Giza neighborhood killed 41 people, including 15 children.[2] The fire spread quickly in the four-story Coptic Christian Orthodox church and caused a stampede of people trying to escape.[3] The church is located in one of the busiest neighborhoods in Giza, in a street with densely packed buildings and slender streets that are usually blocked by traffic.[4] Coptic Christians account for about 10% of the Egyptian population and have claimed to suffered discrimination by the Muslim majority[5] in public positions, prompting criticism that authorities were slow in their response to the fire.[6] Increased attacks on churches are likely until investigators determine the cause of the fire. In the case of an attack, similar chaos could happen with multiple casualties because of the population density in Giza, likely delaying emergency services response.



Areas of High-Security Concern: The Coptic Christians will almost certainly demand rapid answers from authorities investigating the cause of the fire to confirm it was an accident and not a targeted attack, which would likely be seen as an act of terrorism, likely causing mass protests. The protests will likely turn violent, likely overwhelming law enforcement. With over 25 adults dying in the fire, children who lost caregivers will very likely be temporarily displaced. The social support system will likely be strained from the additional work of relocating survivors to permanent homes.

Current Claims: Egypt

Groups Involved in Conflict: Giza residents; local firefighters

Current Conflicts: The current religious conflict between Muslims and Coptic Christians provides the foundation for the tensions to escalate with the Coptic Christians claiming the response to the fire was delayed and blaming Muslims in power for it.

Major Capital Industries: Egypt government; Egypt healthcare system; Egyptian tourism sector

Potential Industry Concerns: Witnesses' claims about the late emergency services response will likely decrease public trust in emergency workers, likely causing protests. The protests will likely decrease tourism as tourists will likely feel unsafe, likely decreasing revenue for restaurants, hotels, and businesses. Mandatory safety and security measures, like installing building safety codes, would likely be costly for the businesses, likely decreasing their revenues. Businesses will likely close, likely causing job losses.


Areas of Caution:

  • Political: The military ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, which seized control of the country, was viewed by Coptic Christians as a move that would allow them to take over more active roles in the government and fight against inequality.[7] Later in 2011, a mob of Muslim worshippers set fire to a Christian church in a Cairo neighborhood.[8] Tensions between the two religious groups developed mistrust, initiating violence between communities. There has been an escalation in violence since the military coup in 2013, with Muslim militant groups targeting schools, businesses, and Coptic Christian churches.[9]

  • Infrastructure: The Egyptian government put restrictions on building Christian churches after Muslims argued that building new churches weakened the country's Islamic identity.[10] The prohibitions made it challenging to build churches that were aligned with safety regulations. New building permits were denied as a means of stopping the growth of Coptic Christianism in Egypt. Buildings that Coptic Christians inhabit are overcrowded, and they have to commute to the church, both of which represent an additional safety risk.[11] Government prohibitions are causing the closures of Christian churches and forcing the establishment of makeshift churches in buildings not suited for the purpose, like in old homes, and without a security detail.[12]

  • Health: The children were located on the fourth floor of the church when the fire broke out, so they were likely the most impacted by smoke inhalation. Witnesses described clouds of thick smoke coming from the building, with the church located in a heavily populated area.[13] Exposure to smoke and carbon monoxide can cause lifelong medical conditions, like asthma and respiratory diseases. These health conditions can be costly for victims who require acute and long-term care and they may need to seek financial assistance from the government.

Predictive Analysis:

  • Who: Social tensions between Muslims and Coptic Christians will likely increase after the fire, likely targeting Coptic Christians in further attacks. Coptic Christians will likely lose trust in emergency services, like firefighters, likely reinforcing their belief that they are not appropriately assisted due to their religion. Tourist locations in the area will likely have decreased revenue, likely deteriorating the economic stability of the business owners in Giza.

  • What: Attacks against Coptic Christians will likely increase following the fire until a cause is determined, likely impacting the government's ability to conduct an investigation. Citizens will unlikely report suspicious activity, likely fearing retaliation. Reduced access to public services and lack of trust in the government will likely limit future investigations in Giza.

  • Why: The threat to national security will likely increase, due to the ongoing social tensions between the Muslims and the Coptic Christians. Perceived discriminatory practices will likely prompt mass protests. Protests will likely cause road closures and reduce access to primary facilities by limiting the ability of emergency services to respond to the needs of the citizens in a timely manner.

  • When: Tensions and violence between religious groups will very likely continue. The conflict will likely escalate if targeted attacks against the Coptic Christians occur.

  • How: The Muslims will likely use the fire as a propaganda tool to further strengthen their position against Coptic Christians. Increased attacks on Coptic Christians will likely cause many injured civilians as collateral damage and will likely ruin many churches. An internal displacement crisis will likely result from civilians likely fleeing to areas where practicing their religion is perceived safer.

The Emergency Management, Health and Hazards (EMH2) Team recommends that investigators determine the cause of this incident and implement the proper remedies like fines for disregarding safety precautions. Individuals attending mass gatherings in densely populated locations should ensure that the appropriate safety checks are conducted to deter future incidents. Churches and other religious buildings should provide extra security as long as the investigators do not confirm that the fire was accidental. The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) works to detect, defeat, and deter terrorism and will continue to monitor this event for the cause and any future developments. CTG’s Worldwide Analysis of Threats, Crimes, and Hazards (W.A.T.C.H) Officers will continue to monitor Egypt for similar incidents and violence following this hazard.


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[1]Coptic Church, Old Cairo” by Jocelyn Erskine-Kellie licensed under Creative Commons

[2] Fire at Cairo Coptic church kills 41, including 15 children, AP, August 2022 https://apnews.com/article/middle-east-africa-religion-fires-egypt-edb5996566c71ccc5dc632bfbe513aea

[3] Egypt fire: Dozens dead in Giza Coptic church, BBC, August 2022 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-62541074

[4] Fire at Cairo Coptic church kills 41, including 15 children, AP, August 2022 https://apnews.com/article/middle-east-africa-religion-fires-egypt-edb5996566c71ccc5dc632bfbe513aea

[5] Ibid

[6] Egypt fire: Dozens dead in Giza Coptic church, BBC, August 2022 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-62541074

[7] In post-Arab Spring Egypt, Muslim attacks on Christians are rising, The Washington Post, November 2016

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/in-post-arab-spring-egypt-muslim-attacks-on-christians-are-rising/2016/11/13/f50a18e2-84fc-11e6-b57d-dd49277af02f_story.html

[8] Scores wounded in latest religious clashes in Egypt, The Washington Post, May 2011 https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle-east/scores-wounded-in-latest-religious-clashes-in-egypt/2011/05/15/AFaDOL4G_story.html?itid=lk_inline_manual_17

[9] In post-Arab Spring Egypt, Muslim attacks on Christians are rising, The Washington Post, November 2016

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/in-post-arab-spring-egypt-muslim-attacks-on-christians-are-rising/2016/11/13/f50a18e2-84fc-11e6-b57d-dd49277af02f_story.html

[10] Egypt: New Church Law Discriminates Against Christians, Human Rights Watch, September 2016

https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/09/15/egypt-new-church-law-discriminates-against-christians

[11] The Reality of Church Construction in Egypt, The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, June 2019

https://timep.org/commentary/analysis/the-reality-of-church-construction-in-egypt/

[12] Safety concerns after deadly fire rips through Egypt church, AP News, August 2022 https://apnews.com/article/middle-east-africa-religion-fires-egypt-b1b13b72f253ddc0c751a826c466d440

[13] Ibid


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