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The event shocked the nation; Muslim and Christian religious leaders, politicians and the media condemned the attack. And on 6 January, when Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas, thousands of Muslims joined them for candlelight vigils at churches around the country to honor the victims and help protect their Coptic neighbors. However, peace was again threatened in May when Copts and Muslims clashed in Cairo’s Imbaba district.

The relationship of Islam and democracy remains central to the development of the Middle East and the Muslim world in the 21st century. As U.S. President Barack Obama stated in his Cairo speech: “All people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.”

John L. Esposito, Ph.D., is professor of international affairs and of Islamic studies and is the founding director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. His most recent book is “The Future of Islam.”

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