CAIRO: Egyptian Christians marked Christmas this year with a mixture of joy and apprehension, as the Interior Ministry issued a high security alert and deployed forces in strategic areas and churches nationwide.
“It’s that time of year when our alertness and efforts significantly increase. I have continuous shifts until mid-January,” a police officer in Cairo told Arab News.
In Egypt, Catholics and Protestants celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, while Copts mark the occasion on Jan. 7.
A day ahead of the Christmas celebrations, many Christians in Egypt take time off to prepare for the festivities.
Brig. Gen. Khaled Okasha, a member of the Supreme Council for Combating Terrorism, said there is very tight security in place to thwart potential terrorist acts.
Fady Atef, a Copt who works as a salesman in Cairo, told Arab News: “We’re ready for the celebrations without fear. We don’t fear terrorism. We celebrate Christmas and we use faith to overcome fear.”
He added: “I think all Christians will go to church without fear. We trust our security apparatus and we feel secure.”
But on social media, other Copts expressed fear and anger about the loss of loved ones in previous years.
Some blamed the Muslim Brotherhood, some blamed foreign enemies, and others blamed the government for failing to provide adequate security.
“Fear and threat, this is how we feel when we approach such holy days,” said one Copt on social media.
Last month, terrorists ambushed a bus carrying Christian pilgrims on their way to a remote desert monastery in Minya governorate, killing seven and wounding 12.
In December 2017, two terrorists attacked the Mar Mina Church in the city of Helwan, killing nine people and injuring 10.
In December 2016, an attack on the St. Peter and St. Paul Church in Cairo killed 27 people.
The Coptic Christmas feast ends a 43-day fast that begins in November. During the fast, Copts abstain from eating any food that comes from animals.
The Coptic Christmas is a national holiday in Egypt. According to government statistics, Christians make up 10 percent of the total population of nearly 100 million.