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Egypt's Christians pick up the pieces after deadly News Year's Eve church bombing

Priests called for calm as mourners gathered Sunday at the scene of the New Year's Eve church bombing that killed 21 and wounded 90 in Alexandria, Egypt.

By Correspondent / January 2, 2011

An Egyptian Muslim man walks past a mosque after New Year's Eve attacks in Alexandria, Egypt, Sunday. Grieving Christians, many clad in black, were back praying Sunday in the church where 21 worshipers were killed in an apparent suicide bombing. They felt betrayed by a government they say has not done enough to keep them safe.

Ben Curtis/AP

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Alexandria, Egypt

Worshipers in Alexandria, Egypt, returned Sunday to the church that was the target of a deadly New Year's Eve bombing to hold a somber mass amid sobering reminders of the worst attack on Egypt's Christian minority in more than a decade.

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Glass and debris still lay strewn about on the floor of the Al Qidiseen church where the dead and wounded fell after a suspected suicide bomber detonated explosives shortly after midnight Friday evening, killing 21 and wounding more than 90.

In the sanctuary, some sobbed as they followed the priest in chanting prayers and took communion. But when they emerged, along with wails of grief, there were cries of anger.

Worshipers, many of whom were present on Friday night, bitterly accused the government of failing to protect them. “Where is the government? Where is the security?” screamed one distraught man as others attempted to restrain him.

Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, have long accused the government of discrimination and injustice, feelings that have only escalated this year. Officials are already working in overdrive to prevent the bombing from deepening the rising tension between Christians and Muslims. But the startling violence of the attack is also likely to exaggerate the growing distrust of and isolation from their government felt by Copts.

“Christians believe that they are under attack,” says Sameh Fawzy, a Coptic columnist for El Shorouq newspaper. “They think that they are discriminated against in some fields, they think that some crimes against them continue without proper judgment. They think that they are denied access to some key positions in the state. They think that they are politically underrepresented.” Their reaction to this violent attack, he says, “reveals their feeling that there is prejudice against them.”

Growing mistrust of government

The government’s failure to address their grievances has caused the problem to grow, and it was on display Saturday when Christian men clashed with police outside the church as they angrily shouted slogans against the security forces.

Eyewitnesses said police used tear gas and rubber bullets to break up the protests. The streets were calm Sunday as row upon row of security forces in riot gear ringed the block. But inside the church, young men shouted angrily and demanded to know where the police were on the night of the attack.

Policemen were among the wounded in the attack, according to the Interior Ministry. But congregants insisted that few were present that night.

The Christian community in Egypt, mostly Coptic Orthodox, has increasingly retreated to the church as it feels more discrimination at the hands of the government, leading to increased isolation from the rest of society.

Events this year have only increased tension. In November, Christians in a poor area of Cairo rioted after authorities halted construction of a church. A harsh response by security killed one Christian, and 152 more were arrested. Last Christmas Eve, six Christians and one Muslim were shot dead outside a church in the southern town of Naga Hammadi, and the trial for the accused was repeatedly delayed.

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