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Egypt’s anxious Copts ‘await next catastrophe’

By Yolande Knell

1/25/2010 Egypt (BBC News) – Worshippers arriving for mass at St Mary’s Church in central Cairo say they were shocked but not surprised by a deadly attack against Coptic Christians in southern Egypt earlier this month.

“Copts have been suffering for a long time,” comments Magda accompanying her teenage son to the service.

“There have been a lot of tensions between Christians and Muslims, particularly in Upper Egypt, and a lot of attacks.”

“What happened in Naga Hamady has opened the situation up to the outside world.”

Six Copts were killed in a drive-by shooting in the busy town, 60 km (37 miles) from Luxor, after they left a late-night mass on 6 January, the eve of the Coptic Orthodox Christmas. A Muslim policeman was also killed.

Two days later, a full two weeks after the incident, President Hosni Mubarak made his first remarks directly condemning what happened.

“The criminal act in Naga Hamady has made the hearts of Egyptians bleed, whether Copts or Muslims,” he said in a speech carried on state-owned Nile News.

Yet several civil rights groups say it is the government and local officials who failed in their responsibility to anticipate the attack and ensure its aftermath was handled effectively.

There are warnings that the authorities must do more to deal with Christian grievances, including complaints about restrictions on building churches and a school curriculum focused on Islam.

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