Coptic leaders said the eight-million-member community has come under
increasing threat since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in February. They said Al Qaida supporters, called Salafists, were attacking
churches and Coptic homes on the pretext that they were harboring converts
Officials have acknowledged what they termed increasing sectarian
tension and ordered the army to help protect Copts. Over the last few days,
they issued warnings against both Copts and Salafists.
"Egypt has already become a nation in danger,” Justice Minister Abdul
Aziz Gindi said.
In the Cairo neighborhood of Imbaba, which contains nine churches, about
2,000 Copts and Muslims fought with everything from firearms to sticks. The
Interior Ministry said at least six Christians and six Muslims were killed
and 220 were injured, many of them by gunfire on May 8. Nearly 200 people
Copts in Cairo have begun forming defense groups to protect against
Salafist attacks. They said the army and police have failed to provide
sufficient protection, which has only encouraged the Salafists.
The leader of the Salafists was identified as Mohammed Hassan. Copts
said Hassan was provoking violence in an effort to carve out a role for the
Salafists ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections in 2011.
Analysts have assessed that the Salafists were being quietly supported
by members of the former Mubarak regime. They said the two elements appear
to have formed a partnership similar to that by the military regime and the
"They [Salafists] think that violence achieves power," said Nabil Abdul
Fatah, an analyst at the state-owned Al Ahram Center for Political and