Islamic militants have renewed attacks on Egyptian Christians, leaving four dead and dozens wounded. The last major outbreak of Islamic radical violence against Copts was in 2000, when 21 Christians were killed, and many injured, during four days of attacks in southern Egypt. Copts have suffered discrimination by Moslems for over 1,300 years. There are constant minor attacks, and much discrimination, against Egyptian Christians.
The Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church has been around for over 1,500 years, having been formed when Egyptian Christians split with the other Christian churches (mainly over political issues) in the 5th century. After the Islamic conquest of Egypt in the 7th century, Egypt remained largely Christian until the 12th century. But the Crusades, tax breaks for Moslems. conversion efforts, and outright persecution of Copts, eventually turned Egypt into an Islamic nation. Today, Copts comprise less than ten percent of the population. The government has long forbidden the Copts from conducting a census, thus some believe that as many as twenty percent of Egyptians are Coptic Christians.
Islamic militants use Copts as a familiar target for attacks, accusing the Egyptian Christians of being hostile to Islam, and a threat to Egypt. This is a common tactic of demagogues everywhere, creating a local "enemy" where there is none, and then gathering followers to go after the newly discovered foe. The Egyptian government has opposed this sort of hostility, although local officials (including police) will often side with Islamic militants. The Copts still use the ancient (pre-Arab conquest) language in their liturgy (although most of the church services are in Arabic), and are seen as a direct connection to ancient Egyptian glories. In other words, the Copts are accepted as part of Egyptian culture, while Islamic radicals are hostile because they consider Copts outside the Islamic "family." The Egyptian government gets behind the idea of being "Egyptian" rather than the Moslems of Egypt being part of a greater Islamic entity. This is where Islamic radicals, especially al Qaeda and the Moslem Brotherhood, part company with the Egyptian government. The radicals want a world wide Islamic government established, run by clerics, following Islamic law.