Egypt

Coptic Christmas cheer muted amid security fears

Reuters/Ali Jarekji

Coptic Christians worldwide will celebrate Christmas Eve Thursday night in an atmosphere of tension and heightened security after a church bombing on New Year’s Day killed 21 in the deadliest act of sectarian violence in Egypt in a decade.

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Nationwide protests have followed, with accusations that Egypt’s government promoted discrimination and has failed to protect its Coptic community, the largest Christian community in the Middle East.

In Egypt 70,000 police and conscripts will be deployed. Churches will be monitored by bomb teams and armoured cars, with additional restrictions in place such as parking bans in certain places.

Muslims volunteers will be guests at some churches to act as human shields. Hundreds of people gathered in Cairo on Thursday outside Al-Azhar University, the global centre of Arabic literature and Sunni Islamic learning, in a show of support for the Coptic community.

In France police are continuing their investigation into alleged threats against Coptic Christian churches.

Copts in Germany have also asked for protection after receiving similar threats, and across Europe governments have announced precautionary security measures.

A sketch of the suspected bomber, based on remains found at the Alexandria church, has been released.

No responsibility for the attack has yet been claimed, but Al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups have recently made threats against Copts.

Christians in Egypt compose about 10 percent of the nation’s 80 million people.

Copts celebrate Christmas on 7 January, in accordance with the Julian calendar, and base their theology on the teachings of the Apostle Mark, who introduced Christianity to Egypt.

Alexandria is the capital of Coptic Christianity and the church split with other Christians in the fifth century over the definition of the divinity of Jesus Christ.

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