On Jan. 6, the eve of Coptic Christmas, thousands of Muslims showed up at Mass to act as human shields and show their solidarity with the beleaguered Christian community.
By BOUTROS BOUTROS-GHALI
As a Christian and an Egyptian, I was heartbroken by the New Year's Eve terrorist attack on the Coptic Church of Alexandria that killed 21 of my countrymen. Whether this heinous act was carried out by Egyptians or by terrorist groups from outside the country, the intention was surely the same: to sow discord between Muslims and Christians in a country long known for its religious tolerance.
The attack seems to fall within a larger pattern of violence against Christians elsewhere in the Middle East. Indeed, extremist groups that target Christians in Iraq explicitly stated their intention to bring their war against Christians to Egypt.
But while the recent attack led to an outpouring of anger among Copts, Egypt—unlike other countries in the region—has been remarkably immune to the scourge of sectarianism.
The Copts in Egypt are the largest Christian population in the Middle East, and today they make up some 10% of the population. Christians in Egypt exercise their faith freely, and they occupy leading positions in government, business and public life. There's no such thing as "Muslim neighborhoods" or "Christian ghettos" in Egypt.
Egypt's history—a millennium and a half of peaceful Muslim-Christian coexistence, and a civil state-building project that dates back to the early 19th century—has been a model of religious tolerance in the region. That legacy was made clear following the new year: On Jan. 6, the eve of Coptic Christmas, thousands of Muslims gathered around churches across the country to act as human shields, protecting their Christian neighbors during their Mass. This coincided with huge demonstrations during which Muslims and Christians held up the Koran and the cross in unison as a symbol of national unity
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