Copt-Muslim tensions rise in Egypt
Saturday, 23rd June 2007. 8:56am

Religious Intelligence By: Paolo Gallini.

A SPATE of recent clashes between Christians and Muslims in Egypt has raised fears of heightened tensions between the two communities.

Copt-Muslim tensions rise in Egypt

Four people in the village of Seft Maydoum needed hospital treatment after a dispute between a cyclist and a pedestrian, while two Coptic Orthodox Christian Communities in northern Egypt have been attacked during the past two weeks.

Although the Coptic community has lived peacefully alongside the majority Muslim population in Egypt for many years, tensions have been slowly rising. Two years ago, in a bid to reach out to the Copts, a new presidential decree devolved responsibility to provincial governors for church alterations – previously a direct appeal to the President was required.

However, the latest clashes are at a more mundane level, but nevertheless with serious consequences.

In Seft Meydoum the incident arose following a bicycle accident when a Muslim
girl was struck by a Christian man. After the accident her family went to the man’s home and attempted to stone him. His friends joined in, sparking a more serious disturbance.

Another clash, between a Coptic youth and a Muslim leader’s son drew more people into fighting in Alexandria, and 13 people were arrested.

Earlier in June fighting also broke out in the Christian quarter of the town of Zwyet Abdel-Qader, which led to rioting and looting, which also arose because of a confrontation between a pedestrian and a driver.

And in Dekheila the church there was attacked after a row between a Muslim and a Christian construction worker.

Observers are now warning of the danger of heightened conflict between Copts and Muslims, and some on the Christian side are habouring anger because of a lack of prosecutions against Muslim aggression.

Some say that the violence is no more than thuggery, but the real tensions between the Muslim and Christian community could lead to a more serious situation.

A spokesman for British campaign group Christian Solidarity Worldwide commented: "Egypt has a history of conflict between Muslims and Coptic Christians. On May 11, 2007, the Imam of a mosque in the village of Bemha, Giza, told his congregation to defend Islam in the face of a rumour that a new church was secretly being built. A mob subsequently attacked 70 houses, looting shops and wounding many Christians.

“In February, a similar mob attack took place against Christians in Armant, Upper Egypt, following rumours of an affair between a Muslim girl and a Christian man."

“The lack of prosecutions following these attacks has resulted in the failure to deter people from planning and taking part in similar mob violence. Unless the Egyptian Government tackles the underlying social tensions and promotes a culture of tolerance and equality, we fear more clashes like these will be triggered by trivial situations."

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