Violent clashes at the weekend saw at least 26 killed and more than 200 wounded in Egypt. It is believed that the majority of those killed were Coptic Christians.
About 1,500 Copts were taking part in a protest against a church attack which occurred last week. Mild skirmishes quickly escalated and violence erupted as military forces and local hardline Muslim groups started attacking protesters.
The majority of Christ believers in Egypt are Copts – Christians descended from the ancient Egyptians. According to recent statistics Coptic Christians in Egypt make up roughly 10 percent of the county’s population of 84.5 million.
Copts in Egypt constitute the largest Christian community in the Middle East and North Africa, as well the largest religious minority in the region.
The Egyptian government estimates there are 5.6 million Christians in Egypt. According to the BBC’s Guide to Christians in the Middle East, church estimates rise to 11 million.
The main church is the Coptic Orthodox. On most theological issues, the church doctrine is similar to the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Church split from the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches in 451AD.
In recent years, Christian-Muslim relations have declined dramatically. Violent outbreaks from radical Islamists against Christians and their places of worship are one of the biggest factors in the deteriorating relationship between the two dominant religious groups.
Egyptian Christians have accused the post-Mubarak governing military council of being too lenient on the perpetrators of the attacks.
The main issues for Christians in Egypt are anti-Christian attacks and political instability.
Historically Copts used Coptic language, which derives from the ancient Egyptian language written mainly in the Greek alphabet, which is still used for small parts of Christian services.
In addition to violent outbreaks, Copts complain of discrimination. In Egypt, there is a law that requires the president’s permission for church construction.
According to a U.S. State Department report on religious freedom published last year, Mubarak’s government had encouraged discrimination against Copts. Some Christians have reported that this policy has continued under the military council that took power after Mubarak was ousted in February.