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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 27 March 2019

Egypt's Sisi announces new agency to stop 'sectarian incidents'

The move is seen as a bid to stop attacks against the country's more than 15 million Copts

Coptic Egyptians pray during a funeral ceremony for the remains of the bodies of 20 Egyptian Christians beheaded in Libya by Islamic State in 2015. Reuters
Coptic Egyptians pray during a funeral ceremony for the remains of the bodies of 20 Egyptian Christians beheaded in Libya by Islamic State in 2015. Reuters

Egypt's president has ordered the creation of a committee to tackle "sectarian incidents" just days after an explosion killed three tourists and their Egyptian guide.

The decision by President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, reported by the official gazette, follows major efforts by the state to stop strings of militant attacks targeting the country's Coptic Christian minority, security forces and foreign tourists.

The body is to be headed by Mr El Sisi's security and counterterrorism adviser, currently ex-Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar.

The new committee, tasked with "developing a general strategy to prevent and confront sectarian incidents", will include representatives from security and intelligence agencies as well as the country's top anti-corruption body.

Mr El Sisi's decision takes effect Monday, ahead of Egypt's Coptic Christmas celebrations on January 7.

Egypt's Christians make up roughly 10 per cent of the country's mostly Muslim population.

They have long complained of discrimination and sectarian violence intermittently erupts, especially in rural areas in the country's south.

The embattled Christian minority has been targeted by a series of deadly attacks over the past two years, the majority claimed by ISIS.

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Read more:

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Tourist bus attack hits Egypt at a critical time

Egypt's ancient Coptic community rattled by bishop murder saga

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Earlier in December, two Coptic Christians were shot dead by a Muslim church security guard following a verbal dispute in the governorate of Minya.

Last year, attacks in Alexandria and Tanta targeted Coptic churches on Palm Sunday, killing 47 and injuring more than 120. It was the latest in a series of church bombings that have killed over 100 Egyptian Christians since December 2016.

The Egyptian military and police deploy en masse around Coptic sites ahead of key religious holidays in an effort to prevent attacks and reassure the community.

The army is also waging an all-out battle against extremist groups – including ISIS – in the vast Sinai Desert. While experts have said that the security situation has improved since the start of the battle, there have still been attacks.

There have been accusations that some incidents haven’t been prevented due to complacency. Some Christians complained that police stopped providing armed escorts for pilgrims’ buses on their way to the St Samuel the Confessor Monastery south of Cairo as they did in the immediate aftermath of an attack on the road in May 2017 that killed 29. Then, in November, seven more pilgrims were gunned down on the road – including six members of the same family.

Updated: December 31, 2018 06:17 PM

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