CAIRO - Egypt's Christians rang in the new year Wednesday with prayers for peace after months of unrest, but expressed no regrets over backing the military's overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi.
Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 per cent of Egypt's 86 million people and constitute the largest Christian community in the Middle East, have long complained of official discrimination and feared attacks by radical Islamists.
After security forces violently dispersed two pro-Mursi sit-ins in Cairo in August, setting off clashes in which hundreds of demonstrators were killed, Islamist mobs unleashed their fury on Copts, setting fire to homes, shops and churches, mainly in central Egypt.
But Copts interviewed this week stood by their decision to support the massive protests demanding the ouster of Morsi, who many Christians feared was trying to transform Egypt into an Islamic state.
"I don't regret supporting the military against Mursi, whatever the price I have to pay," Ibrahim George, 37, told AFP at his cramped apartment on the outskirts of Cairo.
Four members of his family, including his mother, were gunned down on October 20 outside the Church of the Virgin in Cairo's working class neighbourhood of Al-Warrak as they stepped out of a wedding party.
The victims also included two young daughters of his cousins.
"I received a call that the church was attacked. I first thought someone was kidding," he said, choking up as he described the aftermath of the night-time shooting.
"When I rushed there, I saw a massacre and my mother covered in a blanket soaked with blood. I was devastated," he said.
Despite the tragedy, the Al-Warrak church on Tuesday was a scene of joy.
Boys and girls, dressed in colourful clothes and wearing red Santa Claus hats, ran merrily in the church's compound, while volunteers distributed sweets and cakes to worshippers as they marked the New Year.
A brightly lit Christmas tree added to the celebratory mood, while several Egyptian flags hung from the inside walls of the church's courtyard.