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Since the late 1990s, Islamists in Egypt have killed more than 1,300 Christians, according to Operation World. The U.S. war on terrorism has led to a crackdown on Islamic extremists in U.S.-friendly Egypt—but the level of persecution against Christians remains, on balance, unchanged.

The Egyptian government has rounded up the usual radical Islamic suspects. It is also taking over mosques to rid them of extremist preaching. These actions seem to have helped reduce violence by armed Islamists against Coptic and other Christians in Egypt, says Paul Marshall, senior fellow at Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom.

But armed extremists are not the ones who most abuse Christians in Egypt. Most brutality comes from mobs and local police and other officials, and at that level "the atmosphere is worse—things are very heated," Marshall says.

"There seems to be increased hostility toward Christians in Egypt from Muslims since 9/11—or, to be more precise, since the invasion of Afghanistan, and now the questions in Iraq," Marshall says. "There's a lot of anti-American sentiment, and that overspills to Christians who tend to be identified with the West."

Christians make up almost 13 percent of the population, or nearly 9 million believers. About half of those belong to Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church.

Rights organizations report that Muslims coerce conversions by offering money or by abducting and raping Christian girls, then forcing them to marry. In the past year, local authorities closed one church, a mob torched another, and the Egyptian army partially razed a Christian shelter for children. Historically the government has only raised wan objections to such abuses.

"The Egyptian government wants to play to Islamic sentiment and look ...

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December 9, 2002

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