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Egyptian Muslims come out to assure Christians pray without fear

Friday January 07, 2011 09:00:45 AM, DPA

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The number of dead in a bombing outside a church in the northern city of Alexandria ranged up to seven, according to official estimates. The attack Friday evening targeted Coptic Christians who were attending the New Year's Eve mass at the church.   »

Cairo: Amina Abaza was one of dozens of Muslims praying Thursday evening.

But instead of praying at a mosque, she was praying among Christian friends at the Coptic Virgin Mary Church, located in the upper-class Cairo neighbourhood of Zamalek.

"When I walked in, I told myself I cannot believe the day has come that an army is in front of the church, a house of God where people come to pray," Abaza said.

The heavy state security presence surrounded the church as Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas Jan 7, with a mass typically held the night before.

Egypt has been on high alert since a suspected suicide bomber detonated a nail-packed bomb at the Church of the Saints in the northern coastal city of Alexandria on New Year's Eve, killing 23 people and wounding up to 100.

The attack, unusual and shocking for Egypt, has sparked a show of unity, with large numbers of Muslims attending Christian mass to offer protection and show solidarity and support.

Pope Shenouda III, patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, is expected to give an evening sermon at Cairo's main cathedral, which Muslim politicians, ministers and ambassadors will also attend to show unity, according to the state-run al-Ahram newspaper.

In the aftermath of the attack, the Egyptian government ordered extra security and blocked cars from parking near churches, as Copts attended Christmas Eve mass in droves, less than a week after the deadly bombing.

The Coptic church Abaza visited was one of hundreds of churches around the country surrounded with dozens of state security guards.

At the entrance of the church was a metal detector. Women had their purses searched, and anyone not belonging to the church had to leave their ID card at the door with security.

But also at the church were hundreds of worshippers, some scared and some unfazed by the attack.

"I was a bit scared, and until now I am scared," said Niveen Dos, a churchgoer attending evening mass.

Another worshipper at the church, who wished not to be named, told DPA that the attack did not scare her, rather it hurt her.

"We aren't mad or upset with Muslims because whoever did it cannot have a religion," she said.

Tens of thousands of people have joined forces on the internet, especially through the popular Facebook social networking website, to call on Muslims to gather outside churches during Thursday's evening mass as a show of support and ask people to wear black on Christmas Day.

Loudspeakers atop a mosque in the Heliopolis neighbourhood of Cairo notified residents that gifts were available for distribution to Christian neighbours.

Although Coptic Christians, who make up 10 to 15 percent of Egypt's population, have mounted near daily protests since the attack took place, there was relative calm Thursday throughout the country.

Nahla Ghoneim, who was wearing the traditional headscarf of a Muslim woman, brought her three daughters to church with her.

Despite some people's fears that another attack could strike without notice, Ghoneim said she came for her country.

"Even if we died, we'd be martyrs," she said. "It's better than dying in a road accident or something. Egypt deserves it."





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