Coptic homes burned, amid Muslim anger over new church
By: Stefan J. Bos
Special Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
CAIRO, EGYPT (ANS) -- "Numerous Christian individuals" in Egypt and their properties were attacked by nearby Muslims angry over plans to found a church, an organization representing Egyptian believers confirmed Tuesday Nov. 18.
"The incident took place in the village of Jizra, 30 kilometres (19 miles) south of Cairo," said Christine Tadros, Policy Advisor of the United States Copts Association (U.S.C.A.), which advocates democracy, religious freedom and human rights in Egypt.
"Of the 11 injured, our sources tell us five were hospitalized. After arresting 20 individuals, police officials stated that four people had been "slightly injured," she told ASSIST News Service (ANS) about the Nov. 7 violence, with details only emerging now.
"Suspiciously, officials refrained from stating that all those injured had been Copts," she added. "The disagreement appears to have developed over plans to convert a small Christian library into a church," the U.S.C.A. said in another statement send to ANS.
"The ensuing conflict led to the injury and hospitalization of numerous Copts", the term used to describe most Egyptian Christians, the organization said. It also reported "the destruction and burning of several Coptic homes," in attacks apparently carried out by Muslim extremists.
The U.S.C.A. quoted unidentified sources as saying that the troubles began "after Friday prayers", when "the electric power sources had been cut off", first in the mainly Coptic part of the village, and soon in the entire area.
"Shortly, thereafter, a large Muslim crowd converged and commenced destruction of Coptic property" the organization added.
"First the library (planned to build a church) itself was attacked...(later) four Coptic homes were burned, eight other homes burglarized, Coptic cropland uprooted, and seven Coptic businesses attacked and looted," claimed the U.S.C.A.
"In the ensuing violence, Coptic men and women were violently assaulted, resulting in the injury of eleven Christians, a number of whom were subsequently hospitalized." Egyptian security forces arrived only hours later to quell the unrest, the U.S.C.A. said.
"Police intervention in matters relating to the Copts has been repeatedly inadequate, often failing to contain the violence targeted towards the community."
Michael Meunier, President of the U.S.C.A. stressed the incident "typifies the discriminatory sentiment prevalent among factions of the Egyptian populace". He said it showed "the characteristically inadequate intervention of the country's police officials in matters threatening Copts and their property."
Egyptian authorities have not reacted to these charges, but previously the government had pledged to tackle Muslim extremism. Critics argue that process is to slow.
Human rights watchers say Egypt's estimated six million Copts are underrepresented in the upper reaches of government and the army while being subjected to 19th-century Ottoman law that restricts their ability to build or repair a church.
Across the country, Muslims converting to Christianity and active believers are imprisoned and have been killed or subjected to torture and sexual abuse, The Barnabus Fund and other human rights organizations said.
While most Copts are linked to the Coptic Orthodox Church, some are affiliated with the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. According to conservative estimates an estimated 6 million Copts live in Egypt, but the U.S.C.A. says that number could be as high as 15 million.
The word Copt is derived from the Greek word Aigyptos, which was, in turn, derived from "Hikaptah", one of the names for Memphis, the first capital of ancient Egypt.