Egyptian Coptic Christians joyfully waited outside a Church in Cairo for the bride to arrive to join the groom for their wedding.
Instead, bearded men on a motorcycle pulled up and fired on the crowd, deepening the fears of many Christians that their minority community will pay the bloodiest price following the ouster of elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July.
Bride Donya Amir Eissa and groom Mena Nashaat survived. Four other Christians who had come to share their happy occasion, including an 8-year-old girl, were killed.
Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi was quick to warn that such “heinous acts” would not be tolerated in Egypt, a U.S. ally in the heart of the Middle East.
His words provided little comfort for Coptic Christians, who make up 10 percent of Egypt’s 85 million people and have generally coexisted peacefully with majority Sunni Muslims for centuries, despite bouts of sectarian tension.
After toppling Morsi in July, army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi appeared on state media to announce a political roadmap toward free and fair elections.
In an assertion of sectarian harmony, Sisi was flanked by a senior Muslim cleric and the Coptic Christian pope. Copts may have felt reassured to see Egypt’s new strongman beside their spiritual leader, but any such sense of relief did not last.
A bloody security crackdown on Morsi supporters on August 14 was followed by Egypt’s worst attacks on churches and Christian property in years, most of them occurring outside Cairo.
Across the country, several Christians were killed and scores of shops, homes, schools and monasteries were destroyed.
Sisi condemned Sunday’s attack and said “the armed forces would stand up strongly and firmly against any terrorist act targeting Egyptian citizens.”
Sunday’s attack reinforced the apprehension of many Christians that they will be scapegoats in Egypt’s upheaval, held responsible by Islamists for backing Morsi’s fall.