There was a pretext for the horrific suicide bombing of a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria, Egypt, that killed 21 people and injured close to 100 emerging from a New Year’s Mass on Dec. 31. The Saints Church was on a list of churches an Al Qaeda offshoot had targeted for attack on the grounds that Coptic officials were allegedly confining two women who had converted to Islam.

This was untrue, and even if true would not have been an excuse for trying to incite a religious war. Nonetheless, Egypt’s civil authorities could have deprived their Islamist foes of this rationale for violence if they had responded to the plight of the two women with more respect for their human rights and more awareness of the country’s sectarian tensions.

In the two separate cases, the women said they fled their homes to escape abusive husbands who were Coptic priests. Each was located by police after just a few days. But instead of offering the women protection, the Egyptian police handed them back to church authorities. One is reportedly living now in a desert monastery, the other with nuns in a Coptic Church residence in Cairo. Both have said they never converted to Islam.

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