Egypt's transitional military rulers have issued a decree prohibiting all forms of discrimination, including on the basis of religion.
The step comes about a week after 26 people were killed in clashes involving minority Coptic Christian protesters, the military and others. It was the worst bloodshed since Hosni Mubarak's ouster in February.
The decree was one of the longtime demands of the protest movement that has been pushing for political and other reforms in the post-Mubarak transition toward democracy.
The anti-discrimination measure carries a maximum penalty of three months in prison and a fine of up to 100,000 Egyptian pounds, or nearly $17,000.
Hafez Abou Saada, head of the Egyptian Human Rights Organization, described the decree as a limited but positive symbolic step.
Christians, who represent about 10 percent of Egypt's population of 85 million, say they are treated like second-class citizens and that repeated attacks on them go unpunished. Attacks on churches by Muslim mobs led by ultraconservative Salafis have increased in recent months.
The latest bloodshed on Sunday occurred when thousands of Christians rallied at the TV building, to protest an attack on a church in southern Aswan province.
Nader Shoukri, a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said that the law is meant "to contain the crisis but laws are not the issue, the bigger challenge is to put it into effect."
"I am not very optimistic that the current government will be able to protect the rights of its citizens and implement this law in the face of growing popular support of religious extremist groups," he added.