Interior of Coptic Church , Sharm-el-Sheik, Sinai, Egypt, Photograph by Serg Dibrova, Shutterstock

23 people died and 25 others were wounded, after gunmen attacked a bus carrying Coptic Christians in central Egypt, on Friday.

It was reported that eight or 10 gunmen in military attire and travelling in four-wheel drive cars “fired indiscriminately” at a car, bus and a truck in the al-Idwah district, 220km south of Cairo. The bus was heading to the monastery of Saint Samuel, close to Maghagha.

The Minya governor, General Essam al-Din Bedewi, said: “What we now know for sure is that three cars executed the attack, with up to 10 men inside. Security forces have now closed the road leading to the monastery. We are now intensifying security, as this road is close to the western desert, and we fear that the perpetrators may attempt to escape through the mountainous area close to the monastery.”

Earlier this year, a state of emergency was declared by Egyptian President Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi after two suicide bombings on Coptic churches that killed 46 people in April. Pope Francis’ visit in Egypt in April to support Christians targeted by Islamic militants, triggered Isis’ wrath and the group swore to increase its attacks against Christians. The persecution of Christians was also the subject matter of Donald Trump and Pope Francis during their first meeting at the Vatican this week.

Copts make up 10% of Egypt’s 92 million population and Minya has the highest number of Coptic Christians in Egypt. Many of them have complained that sectarian violence in the town is increasingly a constant threat with the burning of churches, stabbings and public humiliation rituals. Characteristic example of the latter, is the incident of an elder woman who was stripped naked and paraded through the town. 

Isis didn’t claim responsibility for Friday’s attacks, but the militant group has described Christians in Egypt as their “favourite prey”.

According to the Guardian, a researcher on religious affairs at the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Ishak Ibrahim claimed that the government’s attempts to strengthen security by calling a state of emergency haven’t improved the situation. He said: “This proves that applying the state of emergency doesn’t provide safety, and Coptic Christians are still heavily targeted.”

Who are Coptic Christians?

The Christian Church in Egypt is the Coptic Orthodox Church. Coptic means Egyptian and Christians living in Egypt identify as Coptic Christians. It is said that the Coptic Orthodox Church was established by Saint Mark in the middle of the 1st century. 

According to the Coptic Orthodox tradition Christ is one nature from two natures: their belief is “Miaphysitic”, meaning that Christ has one nature which is a composite of his full humanity and full divinity.

Copts living under the domination of the Roman Empire, suffered persecution, but once they were liberated from the Roman rule they found themselves under the control of Arabs and many of them converted to Islam.

Coptic Christians live in Alexandria as well as elsewhere around the world. They are around 10 to 60 million Copts worldwide. They believe to be followers of Jesus Christ and emphasise ritual and praiseworthy works instead of a personal relationship with Christ.