The Al-Qaeda threat to Egypt's Coptic Christians has run into all-round opposition ― from the country's powerful Muslim Brotherhood political group to the press. The threat had been issued by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), an Al-Qaeda outfit in Iraq.
The Opposition Muslim Brotherhood, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report, said Muslims must protect Christian houses of worship. "The Muslim Brotherhood is stressing to all, and primarily Muslims, that the protection of holy places of all monotheistic religions is the mission of the majority of Muslims," it said in a statement on its website.
ISI is calling for the release of two Egyptian women, wives of Coptic priests, who the group claims are being held against their will after converting to Islam. The outfit said that “the killing sword will not be lifted from the necks” of Christians until its demands are met. The 8 million Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of the Egyptian population and is the largest Christian group in the Middle East.
The two women mentioned in the threat, Camilia Shehata and Wafa Constantine, are both the wives of priests whom Islamists have said were forcibly detained by the Coptic Church after they had willingly converted to Islam.
The threat came in the aftermath of Sunday's attack on a Baghdad church which left over 50 people dead. The Islamic State of Iraq has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Ahmed al-Tayeb, the imam of Al-Azhar, said, "This is something to be rejected and strongly denounced, and it serves none but those who want to spark discord and target national unity." Al-Azhar is the oldest Islamic seat of learning in Egypt.
A columnist with the government's Al-Ahram newspaper wrote, "The latest threats from Al-Qaeda to the Copts in Egypt are actually a threat against all Egyptians" and "a pretext to destroy our national unity." Sayed Badawi, leader of the Wafd party, wrote, "We are all Egyptians and cannot accept a threat against anything that represents our national identity."
Experts, however, doubt whether the Al-Qaeda threat will stir radical Islamist groups in Egypt. "That kind of call may find some receptive ears in Egypt but it won't find the receptive ears of an existing organisation capable of striking with the kind of sophistication that we see in Iraq," Issandr El Amrani, a Cairo-based political analyst told Reuters.