(Coptic Christians in Los Angeles, U.S.A. protest against the killings of people during clashes in Cairo between Christian protesters and military police, and what the demonstrators say is persecution of Christians, photo taken October 16, 2011. REUTERS/David McNew)

The Arab Spring has increased pressure on Egypt’s Coptic Christians, with attacks on churches and bloody clashes with Muslims and the military. Many foreign Christians feel driven to help. Pope Benedict, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams and other church leaders have spoken out in defence of the Copts, indigenous Christians who make up 10 percent of Egypt’s mostly Muslim population of 80 million.

In Europe and North America, governments have denounced the violence and called on Egypt’s armed forces to guarantee equal rights for all citizens, especially religious minorities. Church groups have collected funds to send to Egyptian parishes.

Worried Christians in Egypt say attacks on them have multiplied in recent years, starting even before former President Hosni Mubarak – seen as a defender of their rights – was swept from power in February by the Tahrir Square protests. But they are wary about getting too much support from abroad, fearing a backlash from Muslims who could resent special attention to a minority at a time when all Egyptians are suffering economic hardship and political uncertainty.

“We’re not afraid of anybody. We don’t want help from anyone,” Rev. Antonius Michael declared as he handed out blessed bread after Mass in a Coptic Orthodox church in Old Cairo.