After the attacks on a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve, and the subsequent fallout, the specter of religious violence in Egypt seemed to fade away, both because Christians and Muslims seemed eager to move past the bombings, and because the protests and fall of the Egyptian government left no space for religious conflict.
Now, however, 11 people were killed in clashes between Christians and Muslims in the Cairo suburbs, as Christians protested the burning of a church in the village of Soul last week. The church inflagration was apparently the result of conflict over an interfaith relationship in Soul. Six Christians and five Muslims were killed. The unrest represented the most significant violence since the protests that toppled the Mubarak regime, and pose a threat to the transitional government.
“We are being persecuted and killed here by Muslims,” protester Bishoi Edmund was quoted as saying in the NYT. “We need international protection.” Among his grievances was the “still-unresolved” issue of the New Year’s Eve bombing. The protesters wanted the transitional government to rebuild the burned church; several thousand Christian protesters have been outside the state television headquarters for the past few days, getting angrier and angrier.
Even more disturbingly, in an article for the New Yorker, Jenna Krajeski reports that some people in the suburb claimed that the Egyptian Army fired on them. “They presented bullet casings as evidence, pointing to engraved numbers on the bottom,” she writes. “Their trust in the Army was eroding.”
This raises the question, once again, of the unstable role that sectarianism could play in Egypt. The response to the New Year’s Eve bombing was, in some ways, inspiring; some Muslims volunteered to act as “human shields” for Christians attending Coptic Christmas. Now, Christians seem to be wondering whether they have the same right to protest as the interfaith masses who recently caused such dramatic change.
It’s interesting, too, how these larger conflicts can often be traced back to seemingly minor origins. If the church was indeed burned because people in a village were troubled by an interfaith relationship, that also points to a problem that will be need to be addressed. If individual conflicts can be magnified this way, it seems likely that religious violence will be sparked again.
Photo from Flickr.