The decision, reported on this page, of certain "top Muslim scholars" to suspend all dialogue with the Vatican in protest against Pope Benedict XVI's condemnation of anti-Christian violence in Egypt is deeply depressing, but I suppose we ought to have expected it. I recently reported, in a mood of probably foolish optimism, that there had been a backlash against anti-Christian attacks, not just among the Copts, but among Egyptian Muslims, too. There had been widespread calls by Muslim intellectuals and activists for Egyptian Muslims at large to flock to Coptic churches across the country to attend Coptic Christmas Eve mass, to show solidarity with the nation's Coptic minority, and also to serve as "human shields" against possible attacks by Islamist militants.
"Are there here," I asked, "signs of hope?" Perhaps, I ventured, "this is the beginning of a new era". I also added: "Then again, maybe it isn't. We shall see." Well, now I fear we have seen, despite those brave "human shields": for, in the end, I fear, this has been a welcome but impermanent moment of tolerance which has by now almost certainly dissolved.