The new year started with an explosion of the unwelcome variety in Egypt. Muslim extremists set off bombs outside Saints Church in Alexandria, killing 21 Coptic Christians and igniting old ethnic tensions as Copts took to the streets in protest.
Egypt is an interesting country in part because of its status as one of the few Middle Eastern nations that maintains a sizable domestic Christian population. Egypt’s Coptic Christians make up 10% of Egypt’s population and trace their roots back to an era before Egypt was an Arabic-speaking nation. The Coptic language in which the Church’s liturgy is read is the last surviving remnant of the language of the civilization of pharoahs that is best known in the West for its giant pyramidal tombs and as the setting from which the Biblical Exodus started.
While Egypt’s Copts have frequently been abused–Egyptian authorities used the swine flu epidemic as an excuse to cull the swine herds of Coptic farmers, an act which served no purpose in diminishing the impact of the disease for which is was performed, for instance–Egypt’s Muslim population has shown a different tact in recent days: solidarity with their Coptic brethren against the threat posed by violent extremists. As Christmas mass took place this month (the Coptic calendar sets Christmas at January 7 in Gregorian terms), multitudes of Muslims filed into the pews at Coptic Churches to act as “human shields” against any further provocation.
It’s nice to see positive developments in interfaith relations make the news, even if they come in the wake of tragedy.