In recent weeks anti-Christian bigotry has pushed members of Egypt's Coptic community to rally in protest. In his self-imposed retreat Coptic Patriarch Shenouda III also wants to voice his disapproval of the violence, persecution and violations of religious freedom Christians experience on a daily basis in the ancient land of the Pharaohs.
Here are some of the latest anti-Christian incidents:
On December 3, some 5,000 Muslim villagers in Mankateen (Samalout province, 220 km south of Cairo) stormed and set fire to a building housing a Coptic prayer room. They then swept through the village, looting and burning Coptic homes and businesses. The mob was prompted by the announcement that President Mubarak had once again refused the local Coptic community the right to build a church, ostensibly on security grounds, on a land the local church had purchased back in 1977.
According to Coptic magazine el-Keraza, the local police "watched as rioters caused havoc moving in to arrest a few people only after most of the damage was already done".
In its weekly edition, Al-Ahram reported that on November 28 Mgr Abanob, Coptic Bishop of Assiut (375 south of Cairo), denounced cases of forced conversions to Islam carried out by Mohamed Abdel-Mohsen, head of the ruling National Democratic Party's Assiut branch.
"Dozens have come to me and complained that Mohamed Abdel-Mohsen offered them houses, money and jobs in order to convert to Islam", Bishop Abanob said.
The Bishop also said he had a videotape documenting how Mr Abdel-Mohsen enticed Christians to convert. According to him, the politician pressured the poor, the jobless and elderly Christians, especially women, who, he said, "are easy to convince".
Mr Abdel-Mohsen said that Abanob's claims were "completely fabricated".
In the preceding days Assiut's governor had turned down a request by local Copts to build two new churches because the existing one was too small to fit all the faithful.
According to Hussein Abdel-Hafez, Assiut Governorate's head of public relations, the request was turned down "because only 10 per cent of that area's population was Christian, so a church was unnecessary".
On January 25 of this year, four young Christians were arrested in the sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh for having Bibles and Christian music tapes in their possession.
Peter Nady Kamel, Ishaq Dawoud Yassa, John Adel and Andrew Sa'id are students at Cairo or Minya Universities. They were charged with forming a group that threatens the national unity, social peace and national security, this according to Jubilee Campaign, an interdenominational Christian human rights organisation
Patriarch Shenouda III has also come to their defence.
Egypt has a population of more than 70 million people, 90 per cent of whom are Muslim. Christians are 10 percent, mostly Copts. Catholics are about 200,000. (LF)