Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Egypt: Why Christian, Muslim Clashes Are Different This Time

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Egypt: Why Christian, Muslim Clashes Are Different This Time

Article excerpt

The attack that killed six Christians as they left a Jan. 7 Christmas mass, and the ensuing clashes between Christian protesters and Egypt's mainly Muslim security forces, may signal a turn for the worse.

An unprecedented attack on Coptic Christians leaving a church service

earlier this week has prompted concerns that simmering sectarian

tensions have turned a dark corner.

"For the first time, this kind of incident [against Christians]

happened ... on a random basis," says Samir Morcos, director of

el-Masry Foundation for Citizenship and Dialogue, an Egyptian

nongovernmental organization. "I hope that what happened becomes

just an exception, not to be repeated and to become a phenomenon for

the next month or years."

Egyptian police have reportedly arrested three suspects in the

drive-by shooting that killed six Christians and a Muslim security

guard in Naj Hammadi, a town in southern Egypt, when gunmen opened

fire on worshipers leaving midnight Christmas mass on Wednesday. The

following day, Jan. 7, thousands of Christians clashed with Egyptian

security forces at a funeral for one of those killed, while rioters

hurled stones at police and smashed everything from ambulances to

shop windows. The shooting is thought to be revenge for a Christian

man's alleged rape of a Muslim girl in November.

Copts: systemic government discriminationIn Egypt, where Christians

- predominately of the Coptic sect - make up around 10 percent of

the population, clashes between the two groups are not uncommon. But

whereas clashes have generally been tied to land disputes or social

incidents that trigger targeted acts of violence, this attack was

unusually severe and indiscriminate.

That, say some analysts, may prompt Copts to respond more forcefully

than in the past.

"Always Copts in Egypt don't respond, but I think after what

happened yesterday ... they will start to ask for the rights to stop

this kind of violence and perhaps they [will] react," says Emad

Gad, political analyst at the Al Ahram Center, a think tank funded by

Egypt's secular government. …

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