Coptic Christians have been gathering in a Cairo church ahead of the funerals of protesters killed in Sunday’s rioting.
At least 26 people died in clashes with Egyptian military police in the worst violence since the ousting of Hosni Mubarak in February.
The first services are set to take place later on Monday.
Security services say troops intervened when vehicles were set ablaze. The Copts say they were attacked after trying to stage a peaceful protest.
They accuse the country’s military rulers of not doing enough to stop attacks on Christians.
Coptic Christians, who make up some ten percent of Egypt’s population, have long complained of discrimination. According to a US State Department report published last November, persecution of Copts was even encouraged during the rule of Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in February.
The Copts had initially gathered in downtown Cairo to protest against an attack on a church in Southern Egypt earlier this month.
Egypt’s embattled minority, the Copts, are descended from some of the earliest Christians, who pre-dated the seventh century Muslim Conquest. Persecution peaked after the Crusades. Much later, they suffered under 20th century pan-Arabism. Today Islam is the faith of 90 percent of all Egyptians, and the Copts say discrimination is part of their lives. Fifteen were killed in Cairo last May, in attacks on churches.
On 1 January this year, a bomb in Alexandria killed some two dozen Coptic Christian worshippers leaving midnight mass. The community reviled then-president Hosni Mubarak as having ignored puritanical islamist — or salafist — threats against it.
The Egyptian people’s uprising to force Mubarak to quit power had a far broader protest foundation, but the mingling of Copts and Muslims dispelled the spectre of radical sectarianism, briefly.
It did not last. By May, the minority Christians were moved to new protests, against bigotry, ignorance and intolerance.
A priest said: “We had great expectations after the revolution in January, but the salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood have unfortunately stolen the revolution from those who were behind it, and made it their own. Now they want to reform Egypt into a religious state, which will be just as unsuccessful as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.”
Discrimination against the Copts, short of church bombings, they say also includes an unwritten ban from some senior official jobs. One of the hardest cuts is the removal of their history from school books — being erased in their own country.
Far from being outsiders or newcomers, the name ‘Copt’ traces back to an early word for Egyptian, from deep antiquity. The Copts in Egypt are the largest Christian community in the Middle East.