– Some historians say Egypt’s sectarian strife started as far back as 1798, sparked by anger among the majority Muslim population against a Christian businessman who was thought to have financially supported French occupation forces.
This country’s sectarian tensions, however, began to be strongly felt from the early 1970s. Since then, Muslims and Christians have clashed hundreds of times, some unreported by the media, human rights activists say.
“The surprising thing, though, was that most of these clashes were unable to attract the attention of decision-makers in this country to their root causes,” Saed Abdel Messiah, a Christian lawyer and a human rights activist, told IRIN News. “This is why these root causes continued to exist, offer nourishing fodder for more violence until today.”
The following is a record of the most important sectarian clashes in Egypt over the last 40 years.
9 October 2011: Around 25 people killed and more than 300 injured in the centre of Cairo after a protest over an attack on a church erupts into the worst violence since the 18-day popular uprising against Egypt’s former ruler Hosni Mubarak in February. Trouble started when the protesters were reportedly met by army gunfire close to the state TV building. Appealing for calm after hundreds of policemen were deployed in the area, the prime minister of the caretaker government, Essam Sharaf, said the clashes were aimed at destabilizing Egypt and doing away with its revolutionary gains.
30 September 2011: Clashes erupt between Muslim and Christian residents in the village of Al Marinab in the southern Egyptian governorate of Aswan. According to witnesses in the nearby city of Edfu, the clashes broke out after Muslim residents demolished a guesthouse that Christians were trying to convert into a church without official permission. They added that the clashes spread when the Muslim residents attacked local Christian-owned shops.
5 March 2011: Christian homes in the southern Cairo village of Soul are attacked by a mob of Muslims who set fire to the Saint Mina and George Coptic Church. The violence was reportedly triggered by a taboo love affair between a Christian man and a Muslim woman. The woman’s father was killed by his cousin after refusing to restore the family’s honour by killing his daughter. The cousin, in turn, was murdered by the girl’s brother in an act of revenge. Blaming the Christians of the village for the killings, Muslims launched an assault on the community’s 1,200 Christians.
1 January 2011: At least 21 people killed and more than 70 injured in the coastal city of Alexandria in a bombing outside a Christian church as worshippers leave a New Year service. It was initially thought that a car bomb had caused the explosion just after midnight at the Orthodox Al Qidiseen church. The Interior Ministry, however, suggested that a foreign-backed suicide bomber may have been responsible. A state security document later emerged placing the Interior Ministry behind the bombing, but its authenticity has not been verified.
7 January 2010: Seven killed in a drive-by shooting outside a church in the southern town of Nagaa Hamady after a Coptic Christmas Eve Mass. The shooting happened as churchgoers left midnight mass to welcome in the Coptic Christmas on 7 January. The attack was thought to be in revenge for the alleged rape of a 12-year-old Muslim girl by a Christian man.
4 January 2000: At least 20 Christians killed in the southern village of Al Kosheh on New Year’s Eve after a financial dispute between a Muslim and a Christian shopkeeper in the village. The Health Ministry sent a team of surgeons to treat the wounded, who numbered more than 44, according to witnesses. Security police put the village of Al Kosheh, about 250 miles south of Cairo, and surrounding hamlets under curfew, and cordoned off the area to outsiders.
6 November 1972: A group of Muslims stormed into a church in the Greater Cairo governorate of Qalluibia and torched it, in the first serious sectarian crisis to hit this country in modern times. The crisis happened after local Christians turned a house into a church. Muslims objected to the move, opening the way for violent clashes between the two sides. A fact-finding commission later reconciled both parties, but mutual hatred had already been sown.