Egypt's minority Christians in tenuous position after anti-American unrest in Egypt and across the Middle East.
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Egypt's minority Christians remain in the eye of the storm of anti-American unrest in Egypt and across the Middle East.
After US authorities identified the key figure behind a crude film that denigrates Islam as a Coptic Christian of Egyptian origin living in Los Angeles, Copts in Egypt were bracing all weekend for sectarian violence to be directed against them.
There were reports of sporadic incidences, but not the wave of violence that was feared.
A 14-minute trailer of a film, titled "Innocence of Muslims," mocks Islam and insults the Prophet Mohamed as a womanizer, a child molester and a fraud, and has ignited protests around the Muslim world as well as attacks on American and other Western embassies, including one in Libya that killed the US ambassador and three other Americans.
"It is very tense here for sure. The Copts definitely feel that tension very much," said Sally Moore, a Copt who also served among the leaders of the Revolutionary Youth Council during the 2011 demonstrations in Cairo's Tahrir Square that led to the toppling of the late Hosni Mubarak.
On Friday, Copts gathered in front of the Coptic cathedral in downtown Cairo holding signs that denounced the film. The Coptic Christian Church issued a statement rejecting all "defamation'' of the Muslim faith and the church hierarchy has vowed that Christians will join their "brotherly Muslims" in protests and sit-ins against the film.
"This is part of a wicked campaign against religions, aimed at causing discord among people, especially Egyptians," read the statement issued Wednesday by the Sacred Congregation of the Coptic Church.
Among Copts, who represent somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of Egypt's population of approximately 80 million, there is a growing sense of dread wafting through the air like incense in Christian minority enclaves such as Cairo's neighborhood of Shubra and small villages on the outskirts of large towns like Minya and Sohag.
For decades and even centuries, the Christians, who trace their religious tradition back to at least the 4th century in Egypt and are part of an Eastern Orthodox rite, have endured intolerance and spates of violence that sometimes erupts into full-fledged massacres of innocents. Churches have been bombed and sprayed with gunfire throughout the last three decades.
Not surprisingly, that has prompted Copts from Egypt to emigrate to Western countries, particularly America, a steady pattern over at least the last half century that has dramatically picked up a pace according to those studying the issue and church officials.
There is no official census in Egypt that confirms the current size of the population, but the withering impact of this pattern of emigration is said to have diminished the presence of Copts in Egypt considerably.
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Charles M. Sennott