Egypt Copts hold Christmas mass under tight security
Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Christians held a Christmas Eve mass on Saturday at a massive new cathedral east of Cairo amid tight security after a year of deadly jihadist attacks on the community.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi gave a short speech before the liturgy, which was led by Pope Tawadros II, wishing the Christians a merry Christmas and telling them that the country would prevail over the jihadists.
"You are our family, you are from us, we are one and no one will divide us," he said to ululations and chants from some of the congregants and visitors.
Police had set up barricades outside the cathedral in a new administrative capital Egypt is building east of Cairo.
The cathedral, Sisi said, was a "message to the world, a message of peace and a message of love".
Police had tightened security around the country's churches ahead of services following a spate of attacks that began in 2016.
More than 100 Christians have been killed in the violence, including a shooting at a church south of Cairo just last week claimed by the Islamic State group.
Since the military ousted divisive Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, security forces have sought to quell attacks led by the Egypt branch of IS which has increasingly targeted Christians.
While the jihadists have also taken aim at other civilians, including more than 300 Muslim worshippers massacred at a mosque last November, they have focused on the ancient Coptic community.
In December 2016, an IS suicide bomber killed almost 30 worshippers at a church in Cairo located in the Saint Mark's Cathedral complex, the seat of the Coptic papacy.
In the Sinai Peninsula, where IS is based, hundreds of Christians were forced to flee in January and December after a wave of assassinations.
IS suicide bombers killed more than 40 people in twin church bombings in April and shot dead almost 30 Christians a month later as they headed to a monastery.
The year ended with an IS jihadist killing nine people in an attack on a church in a south Cairo suburb.
Copts, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's 93 million people, have long complained of discrimination and intermittent sectarian attacks.