Clashes between Copts and Muslims usually are sparked by disputes over rumours of conversion, Muslim-Christian love affairs and the construction of churches. Violence between Egypt’s Christians and Muslims has risen in the past two years in the wake of the country’s uprising that ousted longtime President Hosni Mubarak, but also weakened security across the nation.
Officials said 11 policemen were wounded in the clashes in the town of Kom Ombo, which is near Aswan High Dam, about 980 kilometres south of Cairo. Coptic Christian activist Ibrahim Louis said 12 Christians also were wounded, including one man who was in serious condition.
The fighting erupted late Thursday night when hundreds of Muslim residents tried to get inside the church. Police used tear gas to keep the crowd from storming the church as some of the residents burnt tires along a major highway and cut off traffic. The clashes erupted again Friday afternoon when dozens of residents again threw firebombs and rocks at police. In anticipation of renewed clashes, police had set up checkpoints and increased their presence around the church.
Tensions rose after a 36 year-old Muslim woman, who has been missing for five days, was allegedly seen outside the church with a female Christian friend on Thursday. Some residents believe the woman, who is a teacher, converted to Christianity and is hiding inside the church. Others suspect she was forced into conversion and is being held against her will inside the church.
Egypt’s Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 per cent of the country’s 85 million people, have long complained of discrimination by the state. They are the largest Christian community in the Middle East. (This article appeared in Toronto's "The Star" newspaper on March 1, 2013