Christmas celebrated in Egypt amid fears

Sectarian rhetoric from Islamists against Egypt's Coptic Christians has intensified and authorities are on alert for any attack

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Egypt’s Coptic Christians celebrated Christmas on Tuesday amid heightened security fears following a string of recent terror attacks across the country.

Dozens of churches and Christian properties were attacked in August, the month after the army overthrew Islamist President Mohammad Mursi.


Since then, although wider reprisals against Christians have been infrequent, sectarian rhetoric from Islamists against Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, has intensified and the authorities are on alert for any attack.

Egyptian security officials announced on Monday that there would be boosted security ahead and during the celebrations.

Five to 10 police officers would be deployed to each church, where they will set up cordons to prevent cars from parking along the perimeter, sources told Reuters news agency.

Plainclothes officers and counter-terrorism specialists will be on the streets near churches, along with “combat units” on roving patrols. Bigger teams will be deployed to the country’s largest churches.

“If police confirm there is a presence of any terrorist elements, they will use live rounds,” an Interior Ministry official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

An attack by gunmen in October that killed four wedding guests outside a church in Cairo stoked fears that Christians would become scapegoats in Egypt’s upheaval, held responsible by Islamists for backing Mursi’s fall.

New Year’s Eve marked the third anniversary of a bombing at a Coptic church in Egypt’s second city of Alexandria, days ahead of the Christmas holiday, that killed 23 people and was the deadliest attack on a church in years.

Coptic Christians broke their 43-day fast to celebrate Christmas. The festival comes almost two weeks after most Western denominations, including Catholics and Protestants, held their celebrations on Dec. 25.

(With Reuters)

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