Egypt opens inquiry on religious clashes

casa.jpgEgyptian magistrates have opened an inquiry and interviewed 20 witnesses following religious clashes in recent days in Al Ayat, south of the capital Cairo, independent daily al-Masri al-Yom reported Monday.

The paper said that some nine people – both Muslims and Coptic Christians – are being treated in hospital after the violence that erupted in Bamha, and a fire started in a chapel next to the local church.

Those arrested are expected to be charged with arson and incitement of sectarian violence.

Police are still hunting another ten people on the same charge.

Hundreds of Egyptian Muslims and Christians hurled bricks and firebombs at each other in clashes last week on Friday south of Cairo in a dispute over building a church that erupted after Muslim prayers, security sources said.

The violence erupted when Muslim residents of Bamha village objected to suspected efforts by Christians to build a church on a piece of public land next to the town mosque, officials said.

Residents fought with their hands and also threw sticks, stones and Molotov cocktails before police and security forces restored order to the scene.

A total 59 people, mainly Muslims, were arrested.

According to the local press, leaflets inviting the local population to oppose the building of a church were found in the streets.

In February 2006 there had been a similar episode of intolerance when the homes of many Copts were damaged by Muslims who wanted to have them demolished to make way for the building of a mosque.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic movement which is deeply entranced in Egyptian society and is now the major opposition force, has officially condemned the violence, describing it as “the result of an incorrect interpretation of Islam.”

The Copt community in Egypt numbers some nine million people and makes up an estimated ten percent of the Egyptian population which is majority Muslim.

They generally live in peace with the Muslim majority, though occasional clashes have occurred.

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