CAIRO, EGYPT (BosNewsLife)– A tense calm returned Tuesday, November 25, to a suburb of Cairo after Coptic Pope Shenuda III banned Egyptian Christians from praying in a church-owned building there following clashes with Muslims, the latest in a series of sectarian clashes.
Police detained at least eight men after Muslims late Sunday, November 23, clashed with Copts in the Cairo neighbourhood of Ein Shams to protest at the building’s use as a Christian prayer hall, throwing stones and burning two cars, witnesses said.
Security sources said eight people were injured, while eyewitnesses told reporters at least dozens were hurt.
In statement published by Egyptian media, Pope Shenuda III said he ordered “a cessation to prayers in the building belonging to the Church of Virgin Mary… after confrontations between the worshippers and some of the neighbourhood’s residents in front of the building.”
The building was a disused factory that the church had bought. Sunday’s clashes came shortly after authorities in an Egyptian village reportedly briefly detained 50 Coptic Christians whose shops were then looted.
The conflict erupted November 4 in Tayibba, 220 kilometers (137 miles) south of Cairo, over a Christian boy’s alleged unwitting break with local customs, Christians said. Witnesses said the boy, 14-year-old Copt Mina William, failed to dismount his donkey as a funeral procession passed, angering Muslims.
A local church said however that Muslim villagers looked for an excuse to attack the homes and shops of Coptic Christians in violence-prone Tayyiba, a town with 35,000 Christians and 10,000 Muslims.
This was no isolated incident. Last month a Coptic Christian was killed over a dispute with a Muslim who wanted to buy his house, resulting in damaged storefronts, 48 arrests and injuries sustained by three Christians and a Muslim, Christians said.
Police supporting Muslims also harassed Copts through intimidation, “fines” and racketeering, taking an estimated $50,000 from village Christians, locals said, but there was no independent confirmation.
The Coptic Church has also faced difficulties in other Egyptian cities, including in Alexandria where authorities reportedly destroyed an unfinished but recently furnished Coptic orphanage owned by Abu-Seifein Church and worth 6 million Egyptian pounds (US$1 million).
Tensions have risen in Egypt between Muslims and minority Christians, which analysts have linked to misfeelings over new churches, conversions and interconfessional marriages. Egypt’s Copts — the largest Christian community in the Middle East – comprise at least six to 10 percent of the country’s 80 million inhabitants, according to estimates.