(Photo: Demonstrators at the Amr Ibn El-Aas mosque in Cairo claiming a Christian woman had converted to Islam and was being held prisoner by a Christian church, September 5, 2010/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)
Militants may feel emboldened by an al Qaeda threat against Egypt’s Christians, even if the network itself might struggle to mount such an assault.
The al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq, which launched an attack on a Baghdad church on Sunday that left 52 dead, has also threatened Egypt’s church.
While there are no signs of a re-emergence of a 1990s-style Islamist insurgency, Egypt remains alert to anything that could stir communal tension that sometimes boils up over issues such as cross-faith relationships and conversions.
(Photo: Riot police stand guard outside the Al-Fath Mosque in Cairo on October 1, 2010 as Muslims protest against the Coptic Church over the alleged kidnapping of a Christian woman believed by many to have converted to Islam/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)
Egyptian authorities were quick to condemn the al Qaeda threat and to boost security at churches in the country, where Christians make up 10 percent of the 78 million people, the biggest Christian population in the Middle East.
“This threat is not directed only at Christians but at the Egyptian state. Egypt’s security ended terrorism in the 1990s and it is capable today of eradicating these threats,” said Father Abdel Maseeh Baseet of the Coptic Orthodox church, the biggest Christian community in Egypt.