Not easy living with a bullseye on your back.
CAIRO — In the Shubra El Kheima section of this sprawling capital’s outskirts, a herd of goats and three rail-thin horses pick through garbage piles.
Rattling old cars and exhaust-belching buses honk at darting three-wheeled “tuc-tuc” taxis.
On a narrow dirt street, four police officers guard brick pillars rising from the mud.
This was going to be a Coptic Christian community center — until ultra-Islamist Salafis seized it and declared it a Muslim mosque, according to Emad El Erian, a spokesman for a Coptic rights organization.
“They threatened to burn some of the Coptic houses in the neighborhood,” he said.
Salafis occupied the site every night until a prosecutor ruled that the land belonged to the Copts and ordered a police guard, local residents say.
“It’s as if (they) are challenging the police, the government and the general prosecutor, and that they want to drag the Coptic Christians into sectarian violence, a season of blood,” El Erian said.
Last week’s incident was the latest attack on Egypt’s Christian minority — but not the week’s only one: A veiled woman sheared a Christian girl’s hair in Cairo’s subway.
Such attacks — like crime in general — have risen in number and intensity since last year’s ouster of dictator Hosni Mubarak. Christian churches, homes and shops have been looted or torched; Christians have been forced to flee some villages.
The situation seems to contradict President Obama’s assertion in the Oct. 22 presidential debate that Egyptian officials must “take responsibility for protecting religious minorities, and we have put significant pressure on them to make sure they’re doing that.”
President Mohamed Morsy, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader, insists Egypt is open to Muslims and Christians. Yet many Christians, who make up 10 to 15 percent of Egypt’s 85 million people, believe the Islamist government is not protecting them.
“Nothing has been done to reform or achieve equality among Egyptians,” said Youssef Sidhom, the editor of Watani, a Christian newspaper. He dismisses Morsy’s commitment as “superficial.”
The post-Mubarak rise of the Salafis, who are akin to Saudi Arabia’s ultra-religious Wahhabis, frightens Christians and less-fanatical Muslims.