Christian protesters have refused to budge from outside the state TV building since March 8
Egyptian Coptic Christians protest outside the state television building in Cairo. Copts have extended a 12-day protest meant to end on Thursday, complaining that the government has failed to live up to a pledge to reopen all churches that had been closed. © Khaled Desouki - AFP
Christian protesters have refused to budge from outside the state TV building since March 8
Riad Abu Awad, AFP
Last updated: October 19, 2011

Egypt Copts extend protest over churches

Egypt's Coptic Christians extended a 12-day protest meant to end on Thursday, complaining the government failed to live up to a pledge to reopen all churches that had been closed.

The sit-in demonstration in Cairo was prolonged after the Copts said they got word that the licence for one church had been delayed, and that hardline Islamists were surrounding another.

Media reports had on Thursday quoted a priest as saying the Christians would end their sit-in outside the government's television building after refusing to budge since May 8, even after being attacked by Muslims at the weekend.

The protesters were taking down their tents when a priest told them a government worker was delaying the permit for the church in Maghagha, in Minya province.

Father Metias Nasr said Salafi Islamists had encircled a church in Cairo's Ain Shams district as soon as it was opened on Thursday and that police guarding it had asked for army reinforcements.

He also said the governor of Minya had signed a licence for the building of a church but a government official was delaying the paperwork, prompting protesters to chant: "We won't leave even if they fire on us, we are no longer scared."

Father Metias echoed their call, saying the protest would go on until "the licence for the church in Maghagha has been obtained.

"We won't leave until we are assured that the armed forces are protecting" the Ain Shams church, he added.

Fifteen people died in the overnight clashes on March 7 after Muslim protesters attacked two churches because they believed the Christians were detaining a Muslim convert.

The attacks threatened to push the country's precarious religious tensions to the brink, prompting the caretaker cabinet to pledge it would reopen closed churches and ease building restrictions.

Copts make up roughly 10 percent of the country's 80-million people and they complain of state-sanctioned discrimination, including a law that requires presidential permission for church construction.

They have also been the targets of frequent attacks, the deadliest in January when a suicide bomber killed at least 20 people outside an Alexandria church.

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