Coptic monastery threatened by Islamic extremists in Egypt

Egypt has in the past been plagued by sectarian violence.Reuters

An ancient Coptic monastery in Egypt has received threats from Islamist militants.

The Coptic Orthodox Monastery of al Baramos, also known as the Paromeos Monastery, was threatened by jihadists online.

Located in the Beheira Governorate in northern Egypt, the building is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and was originally built more than 1,600 years ago. It was destroyed in 407 AD but later rebuilt.

Though it already receives significant protection from Egyptian police, campaigners are now calling for greater security measures to be put in place.

Yussif Malak, lawyer and director of the Egyptian Centre for Human Rights, told Fides it was vital that the government steps up security at places of worship.

Historically, Egypt been plagued by sectarian violence. Islamic extremists attacked the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria on New Years Eve five years ago, killing 21 people and wounding numerous others.

However, thousands of Muslims then formed human shields outside churches across the country to allow Coptic Christians to safely attend Christmas masses the following week. Christians returned this gesture by joining hands to create a protective barrier for Muslims praying in Cairo during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution.

But despite some displays of solidarity, religious liberty remains an issue.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom this year found that the Egyptian government "has not adequately protected religious minorities, particularly Coptic Orthodox Christians and their property from periodic violence".

It condemned "discriminatory and repressive laws and policies that restrict freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief" and the practice of convicting citizens of blasphemy.

Current legislation in Egypt also dictates that churches cannot be built near schools, villages, railways, residential areas, government offices and canals, among other stipulations.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has pledged to change this, however, and has committed to ending religious intolerance throughout Egypt; calling for a "religious revolution" to tackle extremism. As part of this commitment, he became the first of the country's leaders ever to attend a Coptic Christian Mass on Christmas Eve last year.