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EGYPT: Coptic diaspora spreads the word

June 24, 2008 |  7:56 am

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In the midst of continuing sectarian tensions between Muslims and Coptic Christians in Egypt, the Coptic diaspora has recently called for demonstrations in the U.S. and European cities.

Hundreds of Coptic migrants took to the streets in the Netherlands, France and the U.S., raising banners reading "Save Christians in Egypt," "Stop Islamic Terrorism" and "Help! Christians of Egypt are under attack."

The protests follow an eruption of violence between Muslims and Copts in several parts of Egypt. Last month a land dispute involving a Coptic monastery left one Muslim man killed in the southern province of Menya. Four Copts, including two monks, were injured. The clash arose after the monastery began building a wall around neighboring farming land, saying it belonged to the church. Days earlier in Cairo, four Copts were shot dead in a jewelry shop by two gunmen who fled without stealing anything.

Egypt is predominantly Sunni Muslim; the Coptic minority is believed to constitute almost 10% of a population of 78 million. An estimated 2 million Copts live in the diaspora.

Since Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak came to power in 1981, the Coptic Church has sought to project an image of religious co-existence and has not turned to inflammatory discourse on sectarian violence. Yet the response to the recent bloodshed suggests that the church is about to change its style. This month the Coptic Holy Senate issued a relatively strongly worded statement calling on Mubarak to put an end to armed attacks against Copts and ensure their safety. 

The church, which refrains from publicly criticizing the regime, has often distanced itself from the demands made by its followers overseas. This week violence broke out between Copts and Muslims over a rumor of the kidnapping of a Muslim woman and her son in Fayoum province, about 80 miles south of Cairo. One Muslim reportedly died of a heart attack and four Copts were injured in the clashes.

The tension comes at a crucial moment for the Coptic Orthodox Church as the frail Pope Shenouda III is away for medical treatment in the U.S.

— Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo

Photo: Copts demonstrating in the Netherlands. Credit: the Coptic website Coptreal

P.S. The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily e-mail newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East. You can subscribe by registering here.

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