Sectarian clashes erupt in Egypt’s capital


At least 10 people killed when violence breaks out between Muslims and Christians in Cairo neighbourhood

At least 10 people were killed in the clashes that occurred in the Imbaba district [AFP]

At least 10 people have been killed and 186 others wounded in clashes between Muslims and Christians in the Egyptian capital Cairo, hospital and security officials said.
Egypt’s prime minister called an urgent cabinet meeting on Sunday to discuss the violence, a day after witnesses said a mob of people from the conservative Salafi trend of Islam marched on a Coptic church in the northwestern neighbourhood of Imbaba.
The march began over an apparent relationship between a Coptic Christian woman and a Muslim man, amid reports that the woman was being held inside against her will and prevented from converting to Islam.
The verbal clash on Saturday soon developed into a full-fledged confrontation where the two sides exchanged gunfire, firebombs and stones, and another church nearby was set on fire.
Authorities deployed large numbers of soldiers and police, backed by armoured vehicles, to the area. The army fired shots in the air and used tear gas to separate both sides, witnesses said.

Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh, reporting from Cairo, said the neighbourhood remained tense on Sunday morning though clashes had ceased.

“We understand several Christians are huddled inside churches to protect their churches. We also understand there is quite a massive police and military presence in the neighbourhood.”

Interfaith relationships often cause tension in Egypt, where Christians make up about 10 per cent of its 80 million people.

Call for calm

The strife represents another challenge to Egypt’s military rulers who are trying to restore law and order after president Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down in a popular uprising in February.

The Grand Mufti of Egypt Ali Gomaa, a senior Islamic religious figure, called for calm.

“All Egyptians must stand shoulder to shoulder and prevent strife,” he told the state MENA news agency.

He also urged the military council to stop anyone from meddling with the security of Egypt.

Meanwhile Essam Sharaf, the Egyptian prime minister, postponed a visit to Bahrain in the wake of the violence, state news agencies reported.

“Prime Minister Sharaf has called for an emergency meeting of the cabinet to discuss the regrettable events in Imbaba,” Ahmed al-Saman, a cabinet spokesman told MENA.

Sharaf “has decided to postpone his visit to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates” which had been scheduled for Sunday, state TV reported.

‘Unfair treatment’

Our correspondent said the latest clashes have raised questions over the capability of the country’s military leaders to deal with the crisis.

“The question is being asked … ‘why is the country’s new military leadership not doing enough to deter these attacks that have been repeating since the revolution?’ and ‘why is the military not doing enough to address the root causes of this tension?'”

Christians in Egypt complain about unfair treatment, including rules they say make it easier to build a mosque than a church.

Claims that Christian women who converted to Islam were kidnapped and held in churches or monasteries have soured relations between the two communities for months.

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