No group immediately claimed responsibility for a bomb that ripped through a chapel in Egypt’s capital on December 11th, killing 25 worshippers and wounding 49 (see picture). But those behind the attack in Cairo timed it to coincide with Sunday Mass for the Coptic Christians, next to their most important cathedral, on the eve of a national holiday marking the birth of the Islamic prophet Muhammed. In his remarks after the bombing, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a general who overturned an Islamist government in 2013, reiterated his longstanding promises to ease religious tensions and protect minorities. It is a familiar refrain for Egypt’s long-suffering Christians (see article).
And yet for watchers of religious freedom, the Copts of Egypt present something of a paradox. Most pundits agree that the fortunes of this large and historically important community have somewhat improved since 2013. That year was a low point as mobs attacked their churches, property and communities. But in a country where sectarian tensions are never far from boiling over, and human rights in general are gravely abused, life for Christians has never been comfortable or free of danger.