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Signs that many are preparing to flee country because of concerns over Islamic extremism.

By Helmy Guirguis

6/16/2011 Egypt (Institute for War & Peace Reporting) – Large numbers of Copts supported the Egyptian revolution, but they now fear that a recent escalation in violence and discrimination is only likely to worsen following likely Islamist victories at the polls this autumn.

A mass Christian exodus from Egypt, similar to the one that took place in Iraq, seems almost inevitable.

This February saw separate brutal attacks against two Coptic monasteries – the Anba Bishoy Monastery in Wadi Al-Natroun, 110 kilometres north of Cairo, and the Anba Makarious Al Sakandarie Monastery in Al Fayoum, 130 kilometres south west of the capital.

On March 4, angry crowds burned down the Coptic church of St Mina and St George – together with its irreplaceable relics – in the village of Sool, about 30 km from Cairo.

Then on March 8, a mob armed with guns, clubs, and Molotov cocktails attacked a group of Copts who were demonstrating against the Sool church burning in front of the state television broadcasting building in Cairo.

The Egyptian army, called in to restore order, instead used more violence. Some 13 people were killed and over 100 wounded.

On May 7, two more churches were attacked and at least 12 people were killed and more than 200 wounded in the poor, largely Christian neighbourhood of Imbaba, in north-west Cairo.

Islamists, incited by a rumour of a Muslim woman held captive by Copts, stormed the St Mina Church, burned the Church of the Virgin Mary to the ground, looted and vandalised several Christian-owned shops, and threw Molotov cocktails at an apartment building.

Other attacks have included one on a Coptic man, Ayman Anwar Mitri, who had his ear cut off by suspected Islamic extremists in Qena, and there have also been reports of the kidnapping and rape of Coptic girls.

We believe that Salafists are to blame for most of these incidents and that the inacton of law enforcers – not a single person has been convicted in any of the incidents mentioned above – is allowing the people to do whatever they want.

The greatest challenge we face is building a culture of tolerance, and it may take decades. Copts are worried about the influence that the Salafists have on previously neutral, but poorly educated Muslim citizens — a legacy of Mubarak’s decrepit education system. But at the very least, confronting sectarianism needs to become a priority that extends beyond the facades of newly-painted churches.

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