Egypt’s Christian Community Shaken in Wake of Church Bombing

BY Talea Miller  January 5, 2011 at 11:31 AM EDT

A mass protest in Cairo; AFP/Getty Images
Christians and supporters held a mass protest in Cairo following the bombing. Photo by AFP/Getty

As Egypt’s Christian community prepares to celebrate Coptic Christmas eve on Thursday, many are still mourning the New Year’s Day car bombing of a church in Alexandria that left 21 worshipers dead.

Leading up to the attack, al-Qaida-linked websites put out manuals on “destroying the cross” and published the locations of churches, including the one that was hit, according to the Associated Press.

In response, Egyptian Coptic Christians, which make up about 10 percent of the country’s 80 million people, and their supporters have marched in protest, and there is concern about fresh attacks around the Coptic Christmas holiday. Jon Jensen, a reporter for GlobalPost, spoke with Coptic Christians living in the slums of Manshiet Nasr outside of Cairo.

“What reason do we have to celebrate? We’re all still mourning. If people put up lights or decorations here, we will take them down,” 19-year-old Mena Samy said. “This attack has shaken our entire community to the core.”

Nationwide calls for calm and unity — including a televised speech by Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak this week — have largely fallen flat. Violent clashes between Copts and security forces have erupted in neighborhoods throughout the country several times since the attack, raising concerns that Egypt could be headed for greater sectarian conflict.

Coptic communities across Europe are on alert also, after threats.

The impoverished residents of Manshiet Nasr, already economically segregated from much of Egyptian society, said the aftermath of the Jan. 1 bombing has pushed them further into isolation. Now facing what they call increased “persecution and discrimination” by the government, many of the zabaleen are directing their anger toward Mubarak’s 29-year-old regime.

“The government is not providing enough security outside churches,” said Salah Ateya, 75, a plastics recycler. “My wife is scared, my children are scared, and I’m scared. What kind of life are we living if we constantly feel the need to look over our shoulder outside church to see if people are going to blow us up?”

Read Jensen’s full report at GlobalPost.