The Egyptian government needs to do more to protect the country's Coptic Christians from a "wave of persecution" following bombings that killed dozens during the church's most solemn week of the year, a senior bishop said.
Bishop Macarius, head of the Coptic diocese in Minya, south of Cairo, was skeptical that a state of emergency imposed after the Islamist attacks on Palm Sunday was adequate security and said the church wanted further guarantees.
Copts make up about 10 percent of the 92-million population of mostly Muslim Egypt and are the region's largest Christian denomination, with a nearly 2,000-year-old history in the country.
The Coptic church in Egypt will mark Easter in a subdued fashion, Macarius said, with the usual prayers and religious observances but none of the celebrations and visits from dignitaries that would normally enliven the day.
"We can consider ourselves in a wave of persecution, but the church has gone through a lot in 20 centuries," the bearded Macarius told Reuters in an interview.
"There are waves of persecution. It reaches to the highest point like a pyramid and then it goes down again," the bishop said on Wednesday. "We are at a very high point."
The bombings that killed 45 in Alexandria and Tanta last Sunday followed a series of sectarian attacks against the Copts and came days before Pope Francis is due to make his first visit to Egypt on April 28-29.
The attacks, claimed by Islamic State, represent a challenge to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has pledged to protect the Copts as part of his campaign against extremism. Sisi visited Coptic Pope Tawadros in Cairo on Thursday to express his condolences.
Although Copts have suffered attacks before from their Muslim neighbors, who have burnt their homes and churches in rural areas, the community has felt increasingly insecure since Islamic State has spread through Iraq and Syria and started targeting Christians.
After the Palm Sunday attacks, Sisi's government introduced a three-month state of emergency which gives it sweeping powers to act against what it calls enemies of the state.
Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said the step was essential to combating what he called terrorist groups bent on undermining the country.