The Houston, Texas Spero News reported on Saturday 05 March 2011, that on the previous day a priest and three deacons are believed missing from the Coptic Christian community in the town of Soul (Sol), about 20 miles south of Cairo, Egypt. This followed after a mob, estimated at 4,000, attacked the homes of Coptic Christians and set fire to the Saints Mina and George Coptic Church in the town. After desecrating the Cross, the crowd set about pulling down the domes of the church building. Centuries old relics were also destroyed in the conflagration.
The attack on the church followed the murders of two men, both Muslims, over the apparent relationship between a Christian man and a Muslim woman. Spero News reported: "The father of the Muslim woman was killed by his cousin because he did not kill his daughter to preserve the family's honour. This in turn led the woman's brother to avenge the death of their father by killing his cousin. The Muslims then blamed the murders on Christians."
Spero News goes on to say that the Army was reluctant to intervene, though it appears that at present, there are some 12,000 Christians in the town under military curfew and hopefully, protection.
The Boston Globe on 05 March 2011, stated that officials, speaking anonymously for fear of landing in trouble with their superiors, indicated that police and soldiers were able to take those who had been inside the church to safety, before the building had been set on fire.
Further, the Boston Globe pointed out to its readers that both Christians and Muslims in Egypt, tend to be conservative in outlook and neither side favours inter-faith marriage.
If the situation in Soul was bad, in other parts of the country it was just as bleak. An article in the New York National Review by Nina Shea on 05 March 2011 related that last week in Asyut, a group of the Muslim Brotherhood shouting "Allaha Akbar", attacked a Christian school in the town centre.
Asyut is a city of 400,000 about 325 miles south of Cairo and has one of the highest concentrations of Coptic Christians in the country. It is a centre of Coptic pilgrimage. Fortunately, on this occasion, the Muslim Brotherhood were evicted by Egyptian security forces and an Army unit before serious injury or damage.
Ms Shea, in the same article though, cites attacks on 23 February 2011 at two monasteries apparently by units of the Egyptian Army who peppered both properties with heavy machine-gun fire. The action at the Coptic Orthodox Anba Bishoy Monastery in Wadi Al Natroun, 65 miles north of the Capital, wounded a monk and six church workers.
It is difficult to put an exact figure on the number of Coptic Christians remaining in Egypt. Nine million is a reasonable guess out of an Egyptian population expected to reach over 86 million in 2011 and likely to exceed 100 million by the end of the decade.
According to tradition, St Mark introduced Christianity to the Egyptians in 42 AD and there are fragments of the Gospel of John, written in Coptic, which can be dated between 100 AD and 150 AD. It is widely accepted that the majority of Egyptians were Christian by 200 AD, followers of the Church of Alexandria.
After 641 AD, when Egypt was invaded by Arab armies, the majority of the population slowly became Muslims. In modern times, the Copts became increasingly marginalised and discriminated against after the 1952 coup d'état led by Gamal Abdel Nasser. Attacks on Coptic Egyptians, their property, shops, belongings and of course, person - including abductions of young women - are all too common and rarely, if ever punished.
There might just be reason to believe that matters will get better. Mohamed Abdel Salam, writing for the Egyptian website Bikya Masr on 08 March 2011, reports that hundreds of Copts from Atfeeh (Sol area) took to the streets on Sunday and protested outside the Egyptian Television headquarters in downtown Cairo "condemning the lack of security presence and called on the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to protect Christians."
Protests continued on Monday with Muslims joining to support the demonstration and the head of SCAF said that they will rebuild the church before the Easter holiday at the expense of the state.
After meeting the Prime Minister, Essam Sharaf, the by now 10,000 demonstrators were told that it had been agreed that reconstruction of the church would begin on Tuesday 08 March, 2011.
If the world's oldest surviving Christian community were to leave, it could only be to Egypt's great loss.