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Middle East
Egypt charges pro-Coptic activists
Eight Muslim activists who joined Coptic demonstrations against Alexandria attack charged with disturbing public safety.
Last Modified: 05 Jan 2011 19:40 GMT
Egypt's Copts complain the authorities have not done enough to protect them [Reuters]

Egyptian authorities have charged eight people with assaulting police and disturbing public safety following protests over the bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria on New Year's Eve.

The eight activists, who are all Muslim and members of the April 6 movement which campaigns for reform of the country's political system, are due to go on trial on Thursday.

The activists had joined with Coptic protesters to show their solidarity against attacks on the Christian community.

Al Jazeera's Ayman Moyheldin, reporting from Cairo, said: "Some observers have said it is rather ironic - given that many of these protests have been largely in conjunction with Coptic Christian protests - that the only eight people who have been charged in all of this are eight Muslim activists."

In a statement, the El-Nadim Centre, a human rights organisation, said: "Based on the charges facing the eight activists, which do not need a comment regarding their absurdity, we can foresee that tomorrow's trial is meant as a harassment of the solidarity ... to attend the Coptic Christmas Mass tomorrow."

The issue is particularly sensitive as many in Egypt's Coptic community fear a repeat of the New Year's Eve bombing, in which 21 people died, when they celebrate Coptic Christmas Eve on Thursday.

Egypt has increased security following the Alexandria attack, but many Copts say the government has not done enough to protect them.

Further attacks feared

The Alexandria bombing, the worst act of sectarian violence in the country in a decade, touched off days of demonstrations and riots by Christians who blamed the government for encouraging discrimination and prejudice.

Egyptian authorities suspect the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber with links to al-Qaeda, but no group has yet claimed the attack.

Websites affiliated with al-Qaeda have been circulating lists of Coptic Churches in Egypt as well as in Europe along with instructions on how to attack them.

"Blow up the churches while they are celebrating Christmas or any other time when the churches are packed," a statement on one of the websites read.

Coptic websites have been circulating the lists of churches as a warning to their members, while several European governments have announced they will be increasing security at their own Coptic sites.

The threats have sparked a backlash in Egypt and several human rights groups are pushing for Muslims to guard the churches as human shields.

Protesters released

Khaled Aboul Naga, a prominent young Egyptian actor, called on Muslims in his blog not to "stand still while Coptic Egyptians feel unsafe in their worshipping places", and urged people to head to any nearby church to attend Christmas Eve prayers.

But some Christians have said they will skip Thursday's Christmas Eve services for fear that there will be more attacks.

Also on Wednesday, in an unrelated event, an Egyptian court released 23 Coptic Christian protesters who had been held for six weeks.

They were the last to be freed of 154 protesters arrested at a rally in November in southwestern Cairo which degenerated into bloody clashes between Coptic protesters and police over the refusal of local authorities to allow them to turn a community centre into a church.

Coptic Christians complain that legislation pertaining to the building of churches is more restrictive than for the construction of mosques.

The Copts are thought to make up between six and 10 per cent of Egypt's 80 million strong population.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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