Cairo – In a gesture of reassurance to Egypt’s Christian minority, Islamists said on Friday they would form ‘human shields’ to protect churches on the Coptic Orthodox Christmas due early next month.
The influential Muslim Brotherhood, who has made unprecedented gains in the first two rounds of Egypt’s parliamentary election, said on Friday it would set up groups to guard churches across the country during the Christmas festivities.
‘The decision to protect churches was made by the Muslim people who are keen to see Christmas celebrations held in peace and security,’ Muslim Brotherhood official Essam al-Erian told dpa. He added there had been no response from Coptic leaders.
The Copts, who are the majority among Egypt’s 10 million Christian population, celebrate their Christmas on January 6 and 7.
Egypt’s Christians accused the regime of former president Hosny Mubarak of not providing enough security for them and their places of worship.
Last January, 23 people were killed when a car bomb exploded outside a church in the Egyptian city of Alexandria.
Following the Brotherhood’s example, the Salafists, who observe a strict version of Islam, said on Friday they would also help guard churches.
‘Their protection is a religious and patriotic obligation. Islam requires us to protect whoever lives with us,’ Salafist leader Tariq al-Bitar was quoted by the independent Al Shorouk newspaper as saying on Friday.
He added that the Salafists would form ‘human shields’ to protect the churches on the Coptic Christmas.
Long oppressed under Mubarak, the Islamists are poised to be the majority in Egypt’s new parliament by the end of the third and final round of the polls due on January 3-4.
Pope Shanouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church has invited members of the ruling military council and senior politicians, including the Salafists, to attend the Christmas mass on January 6, local media reported on Thursday.
The move, however, angered dozens of young Christians, who protested outside a main cathedral in Cairo late on Thursday.
Rami Kamel, a leading Coptic activist, said the invitation was hurting feelings of families of Christians killed in clashes with army forces in October. Twenty-seven people, mainly Christians, were killed in the clashes in central Cairo.
Christians are also worried that the rise of Islamists would curb their freedom of faith in post-Mubarak Egypt.