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Life Arts

A Cairo Christmas Carol: Egypt's Muslims Attend Coptic Christmas Mass, Serving as Human Shields for Christians

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From Al Jazeera:

A Cairo Christmas Carol

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[Photo by Evan Hill]

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On a brisk January afternoon in Cairo, as the Coptic community celebrated the birth of Christ, demonstrators dressed in black lined the city's famous, lion-headed Qasr al-Nil bridge, a busy span favoured by young couples and tourists looking to catch a shot of sunset over the Nile.
Police officers standing nearby watched the group and the passing traffic warily, while squads of helmeted riot police arranged themselves at the bridge exit, waiting for orders. As is often the case in Egypt, the police outnumbered the protesters.

Six days after a shrapnel-filled bomb killed 23 worshippers at a New Year's Eve church service in the coastal city of Alexandria - the deadliest attack on the country's minority Coptic Christian community in a decade - demonstrators in Cairo are still taking to the streets to show solidarity with the victims and anger at the government. But a sense of fatalism, an inability to hold the government to account or to rectify the disputes that may be driving sectarian anger, hangs over even these displays of fellowship.

Holding a sign that read "Muslim + Christian = Egyptian" and dressed in black from her headscarf to her abaya, Dalia Salaheldin described her reaction to hearing news of the bombing as "sadness, grave sadness".

Salaheldin said she and and other Muslim friends had attended Christmas Eve mass on Thursday night to show support for the Coptic community.

"I didn't really care if the people are Muslims or Christians, they're just Egyptians, and for me, Egypt has always been home, and I want home to be safe," she said.

In Salaheldin's view, the bombing shouldn't be interpreted as a revelation that simmering sectarian tensions in Egypt have finally bubbled over. Though much of the country remains poor and undereducated, Salaheldin argued, the essential nature of the Egyptian citizen is still one of peaceful coexistence.

But she, like others, was reluctant to pin the blame for the bombing on anyone.

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"Someone is not happy with this and wants the situation to be divided," she said. "I am sure that whoever has done this is not really related to being a Christian or a Muslim".

This article is continued on Al Jazeera HERE .


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