Thursday, June 2, 2011

In Egypt, Muslims' Attacks on Copts Increase

by N. Shamni and L. Azuri

Since the January 25, 2011 revolution, Egypt has seen several clashes between Muslims and Copts, and attacks on Coptic churches have increased. In early March, clashes broke out in the village of Sol, in the Helwan Governorate, over the demolition of a church there. On March 23, in the Upper Egyptian city of Qena, Salafists attacked and cut off the ear of a Copt suspected of having relations with a Muslim woman. Qena also saw mass demonstrations by Muslims over the appointment of a Coptic province governor, ultimately leading the authorities to suspend his appointment for a period of three months. In April in the town of Abu Qarqas, a quarrel over a building put up by a Copt, which obstructed traffic, sparked clashes that ended in numerous arrests and dozens of injuries, with the homes of several Copts torched. Violence also erupted on May 19 in the Cairo suburb of Ain Shams, when Muslims demonstrated against the government's decision to reopen the Church of the Virgin there, which had been closed for three years.

The clashes peaked on May 7, when a fight broke out outside the Mary Mina Church in the Imbaba neighborhood of Cairo, in the Al-Giza Governorate, leaving 12 Copts and Muslims dead and hundreds of others wounded. Violence was sparked off when hundreds of Muslims gathered outside the church, demanding the release of 'Abir Tal'at Fakhri – a young Coptic woman who, according to her Muslim husband, was being held there against her will after having converted from Christianity to Islam.

Since then, Copts have staged numerous demonstrations throughout Egypt, as well as a prolonged sit-down strike outside the state television building in Cairo, demanding protection of their rights and the prosecution of those responsible for the violence. It should be noted that in recent years, there were a number of similar incidents in Egypt involving young Coptic women who were reportedly held captive by the Church after converting to Islam.

In the Egyptian press, Muslim and Coptic writers pinned responsibility for the events on various elements. The Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces was held largely responsible, on the grounds that the security forces were failing to respond with sufficient urgency and resolve against the attackers. Some blamed the previous regime, stating that its supporters were trying to create chaos in order to pave the way for a counterrevolution. There were also those who blamed Egypt's Salafists, who, they said, have been intimidating the country's residents, Muslims and Copts alike, since the revolution. Others faulted the Coptic Church, claiming that it has placed itself above the law, and that the young women in question converted to Islam in order to escape the church's rigid divorce laws. Yet others said the events were a result of the sexist attitudes of Egyptian society.


N. Shamni and L. Azuri

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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