Egypt arrests 156 Christians due to protest which left one dead
Nearly 156 Christians in Egypt were arrested recently for their alleged involvement in a protest that left one dead, over the construction of a Christian church in Giza, near the Great Pyramids, which the government halted.
The CNN said those arrested will be held for 15 days while the investigation is ongoing. Last Wednesday, police battled demonstrators who gathered outside a government building. In the melee, one Christian was killed when a bullet hit his thigh. He died shortly after he arrived at a nearby hospital, msnbc said.
Truncheon-wielding police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at the demonstrators, who threw stones as they tried to storm the local governor’s office. There are conflicting reports on the number injured, ranging from 33 to 45 people, msnbc reported.
Earlier that morning Christians and Egyptian security officials fought outside the construction site of the Church of the Virgin Mary and Saint Michael Archangel, because officials blocked trucks loaded with construction materials, msnbc said.
Giza Governor Gen. Sayyed Abdel Aziz said the Christians used the wrong permit. “When we noticed indications that it was turning into a church, we told the church authorities to halt construction because a church would require a different license,” msnbc reported.
Medhat Kalada, who heads the United Copts organization based in Geneva, said the Egyptian government enforces complicated procedures to build churches, while mosques are built with great ease, msnbc said.
According to BIKYAMASR, Egypt’s Christian population, which comprise some 10 percent of the nation’s 80 million population, often complain of government attempts to obstruct the building of churches.
The protesting Christians said their permit was appropriate, and they will build even without machinery. Meanwhile, heavy security prevails around the church construction site which is surrounded by 15 security vehicles, msnbc said.
Increased religious radicalism
According to msnbc, Christians and Muslims generally live in peace in Egypt. However, religious radicalism is gaining ground and attacks on Copts have increased of late, with the government doing little to address the issue.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said last April that violent incidents against Christians have risen to 53 in 2009 compared to 24 the year before. Most cases are ignored or insufficiently addressed, msnbc said.
According to BIKYAMASR, in Minya, upper Egypt, Christians and Muslims clashed over the construction of a large monastery. Earlier this month, an alleged romance between a Christian man and a Muslim woman also led to violence and the torching of homes and one shop wreaking $43,000 worth of damage. (See http://theundergroundsite.com/index.php/2010/11/muslims-in-egypt-torch-10-christian-homes-because-of-interfaith-dating-14524).
CNN reported that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom expressed disquiet over the fact that the Egyptian government seems to collaborate with local media to deliberately promote friction.
According to CNN, this could be motivated by parliamentary elections that are slated next month. Leonardo Leo, chairman of the USCIRF said, “We’ve seen a clear uptick in recent weeks of incitement coming from media outlets and clerics espousing sectarian hatred and violence.”
Leo told CNN, “This kind of rhetoric goes too far and stokes the fire of extremists looking for ammunition to justify violent acts against religious minorities.”