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43 die in Coptic churches bombing in Egypt as Christians observed Palm Sunday: Islamic State (ISIS) claims attack

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Blast at Cairo Coptic Cathedral Complex, VOA

Cairo, April 9, 2017: At least 43 people were killed and 100 injured in two separate bomb attacks carried out by the Islamic State on Coptic churches in Egypt as the Christian faithful observed Palm Sunday, one of the most important days on the religion’s calendar.

The first explosion, which left 27 dead and 78 injured, ripped through a Palm Sunday service at Mar Girgis (St. George’s) Coptic church in Tanta, a city located 120 km from Cairo, EFE news reported.

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The explosive device was planted under a seat in the church and was detonated in the main prayer hall.

A short time later, a suicide bomb attack outside Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria killed 16 and injured 41 people, according to a Health Ministry statement.

In a brief statement released through official news agency Amaq, the Islamic State claimed that the attack had been launched by a “security unit belonging to the Islamic State”.

Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail condemned the attacks on private television channel On TV, adding that the government was determined to end terrorism in the country.

“This is an impious terrorist act, but we will eradicate terrorism from Egypt and we are determined to put an end to terrorist groups,” EFE news quoted Ismail as saying.

Copts, who make up around 15 per cent of Egypt’s population, were celebrating Palm Sunday, which marks the start of the Holy Week for Christians.

This attack comes 20 days before the visit of Pope Francis, who is set to travel to Egypt on April 28.

The Pope condemned the attack and publicly prayed for converting the hearts of those who “sow terror, violence and death”.

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The pontiff was addressing the faithful during the traditional Palm Sunday mass at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City when he was notified of the attack.

He offered his condolences to the victims’ families, to those injured and to all Egyptians.

Over the past few years, Egypt is struggling to combat a terrorist wave that killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers since the military removed former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013 and blacklisted his Muslim Brotherhood group as “terrorist organisation”.

The terror attacks, mostly claimed by a Sinai-based group loyal to the IS, has recently been targeting Egypt’s Christian minority and a previous church blast in Cairo in December 2016 left at least 28 worshippers dead, mostly women and children.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian security forces killed hundreds of terrorists and arrested a similar number of suspects as part of the country’s “anti-terror war” declared by former army chief and current President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi following Morsi’s ouster. (IANS)

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Egypt Turns to Moscow, Beijing to Modernize Electricity Infrastructure

Egyptian media reports the government is building the world's largest solar energy power station at Benban, with a capacity of 1,465 megawatts

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electricity infrastructure, egypt
With rates continuing to rise, Egyptian families often reduce costs by limiting lighting to one bulb for an entire room. (H. Elrasam/VOA)

In 2014, massive blackouts brought much of Egypt to a standstill and called attention to an outdated power grid dating to the 1950s when the Soviet Union supplied much of the technology.  Now, Egypt is again turning to Moscow – and to Beijing – as it embarks on a huge drive to modernize its electricity infrastructure.

Egypt has been building new electrical plants in order to avoid serious power cuts and brownouts that crimp industrial production and make life difficult for ordinary citizens.  Analysts say electricity demand is growing by five to seven percent a year, along with the population.

Energy and Electricity Minister Mohammed Shaker said Egypt was compelled to step up its electricity production after blackouts and power shortages during the summer of 2014.

electricity infrastructure
Power outages sometimes bring trains to a standstill, causing passengers to force open train doors and walk along the rails to the next station. VOA

He said that the experience was a catalyst to diversifying sources of power production, which traditionally relied on oil and gas for power production for about 90% of the country’s power needs.  Now, he said, Egypt is starting to move to solar, wind and nuclear power to generate electricity.

Egyptian media reports the government is building the world’s largest solar energy power station at Benban, with a capacity of 1,465 megawatts.

Egypt is also producing more electricity with a large wind farm along the coast of the Red Sea. The initial phase of the project has 120 turbines operating and is slated to increase to 300 by 2022. Experts at the plant tell Egyptian TV the region has strong and reliable winds.

electricity infrastructure, egypt
A rigged electricity meter in a Cairo apartment building shows how residents sometimes resort to stealing to save money on electric bills. (H. Elrasam/VOA)

He said that Egypt’s Gulf of Suez, along with the Gulf of Mexico, are two of the best regions in the world for wind speed, and the wind is stable throughout the year, without disruptions.

Nuclear power in Egypt dates back to cooperation with the former Soviet Union in the 1950s. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el Sissi signed an agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018 to develop the Dabaa Nuclear Power Plant in Marsa Matruoh.

President Sissi said despite turmoil in the region, Egypt has chosen the correct path and is working to build and develop the country.  Electricity, he said, is critical for this process and it must not be an obstacle to the building process.

electricity infrastructure, egypt
A Cairo apartment building is dotted with outdoor condenser units. For those who can afford the electricity, air conditioning is not a luxury but a necessity. (H. Elrasam/VOA)

Some experts, like Dr. Paul Sullivan at Georgetown University are concerned nuclear power will make Egypt and other countries in the region increasingly reliant on Russia, and even China, for their power needs.

“The Russians have made an agreement with Egypt to upfront 85% of the cost of the power plants in Dabaa.  There will be four of them; about 1.2 gigawatts, each.  Total costs will be about $28 to $35 billion … and the rest is going to be paid for by Egypt in installments. That gives Russia a lot of leverage,” he said.

Sullivan points out that Russian influence “could easily last up to 100 years,” given the period required to build the plant, run it for its expected 60 year life-span, and to decommission it, afterwards.  He notes the United States has in recent years been unable or unwilling to lend money for such projects, both in Egypt and elsewhere in Africa, leaving the door open to Russian and Chinese political expansion.

electricity infrastructure, egypt
The introduction in recent years of lower-consumption LED bulbs mean many Cairo residents, like patrons and this street café, can continue to enjoy bright lights on a summer’s eve. (H. Elrasam/VOA)

The former head of Egypt’s Nuclear Energy Association, Ali Islam, tells Egyptian TV nuclear power is extremely useful for Egypt in diversifying its power sources.

ALSO READ: Researchers Develop Way to Fight against Bacterial Infections using Electricity

Nuclear power is clean and non-polluting and is economical in the long term, since a nuclear power plant has a lifespan of 60 years.

Given Egypt’s rapidly increasing population, the country needs to invest heavily in infrastructure.  Power cuts during Egypt’s recent history of political turmoil also points up the strategic importance of reliable energy sources. (VOA)