"Long live the cross" chanted a crowd Copts, members of Egypt's oldest Christian community, as they marched in the funeral processions of six of their number shot after leaving Christmas Eve mass last week in the Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi. The attack, which has shocked the country and the region, was followed by riots, civil unrest and an escalation in the tensions between the two communities.
Believed to have been carried out to avenge the rape of a Muslim girl by a Christian man, it is the latest outbreak of violence in an increasingly tense relationship. In a series of events over the past few years, Christians and Muslims have have clashed over plays, bumper stickers and land. Copts have been asserting their identity in the face of the promotion of an increasingly monolithic national character. While there are some cases where there is obvious discrimination, there are others where the Egyptian government's characteristically slapdash approach to public health and safety has fuelled a sense of persecution. The entirely unnecessary slaughter of hundreds of thousands of pigs, kept by Christian farmers, did nothing to allay concerns that the minority is being targeted.