The bomb blast that left 21 dead as churchgoers filed out of midnight mass in Alexandria yesterday was an attack on the fabric - some would say the very survival - of the Coptic community in Egypt.
Provocation is the real danger in Egypt attack
Restraint seems almost too much to ask. The bomb blast that left 21 dead as churchgoers filed out of midnight mass in Alexandria yesterday was an attack on the fabric - some would say the very survival - of the Coptic community in Egypt.
The outrage that Christians expressed is perhaps understandable, if regrettable. But of course, by clashing with police and even attacking a nearby mosque, the victims were turned into the dupes of their attackers.
Al Qa'eda is suspected in the attack, although there is still some uncertainty. Whatever terrorist group murdered innocent civilians at their place of worship, their aim was clear: to provoke further strife. Alone, these groups are too weak to threaten civil society.
Countries across the Middle East including the UAE immediately condemned the attack. Although a suicide or car bombing is relatively rare in Egypt, and a tragic blight on the great city of Alexandria, there is a familiar pattern in the region. Throughout last year, there has been an alarming trend of attacks on Christians and other sectarian minorities in Iraq and elsewhere.
It is a real threat to cosmopolitan Middle Eastern societies that have stood for centuries. What is worse, these atrocities often masquerade as acts of faith and falsely lay claim to the mantle of Islam. What the faithful on each side must know is that both Islam and Christianity are religions of peace. Murderous attacks on civilians are as anathema to one faith as to the other.
"This terrorist act has shaken the conscience of the nation," said President Hosni Mubarak. "All Egypt was targeted and terrorism does not distinguish between Copt and Muslim." Brave words and true, but Mr Mubarak must do more than give fine speeches. Discrimination against Christians has long been prevalent in political institutions and public life.
Egypt's Christians and Muslims have far more in common than differences - including widespread poverty, illiteracy and lack of education. Facing these underlying problems together will be the greatest assurance of security.
So in the face of atrocity, the victims must be asked for restraint. And they can only be asked to do so if all of Egypt, indeed all of the Middle East, supports their calls for justice.
Al Qa'eda and other extremist groups continue to seize upon sectarian differences to justify their crimes. If we allow them to do so, we are indeed all the victims.