Businesses owned by members of Egypt’s Coptic Christian community were burned overnight January 17-18 in the southern village of Marashda in Qena province. Four stores owned by the Christian minority were attacked by incendiaries after Muslim villagers accused one of the store owners of the sexual assault of a 6-year-old girl. Villagers are demanding an investigation into the alleged assault by the Christian man. Hundreds of protesters have since assembled outside a Coptic Christian church in the village, while police have fired tear gas in an effort to disperse hundreds of enraged Muslims. Protesters threw rocks at the church during the daylight hours of January 18.
Police are now investigating the accusations against the Christian merchant.
The affray follows a second such incident involving anti-Christian mobs in the Muslim majority African nation. On January 15, some 500 enraged young Muslims tore down a Christian social center in the village of Fayoum, having been led to believe that there were plans to convert the facility into a church. The Coptic Christian priest in the village of Fanous, Armia Shawqi, told local media, “About 500 youth turned up at the building site so I called the deputy commissioner at the Tamia police station and informed him of the situation before it was torn down but he ignored me.”
Rev. Shawqi said that he tried several times to reach the deputy police commissioner for over three hours to intervene, but received no response. Furthermore, the cleric said that the deputy commissioner arrived on the scene only after the building had been razed. “I also called the village mayor but he did not interfere to stop the demolition,” said the priest. While the priest has filed a complaint, no arrests have ensued.
Christians began construction of the social center in November 2012 on a 100-meter plot of land. Intending on having a venue for social events such as wedding receptions, the Christian association involved had obtained the required licences from the authorities according to Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights researcher Ishak Ibrahim. There are approximately 3,000 Christians living in the five villages located in the area.
Egyptian Christians grow increasingly concerned over the course of their country’s government, which is now largely controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. President Mohammed Morsi, a long-time member of the Brotherhood, has made conciliatory gestures even while persecution of Christians continues. It was one New Years’ 2011 that a deadly bomb was detonated at a Coptic Christian church in Cairo, setting off retaliation by Christians. Incidents such as the abduction and rape of Christian girls and women who are then forced to convert to Islam continue to complicate the relationship between Egypt’s Christians and Muslims. Egypt has the largest Christian minority of any Muslim country in the world. Christians have been present in Egypt since the first years after the death of Jesus Christ and is home to one of the most ancient of the Christian patriarchates.