Egyptian Government Shunts Responsibility For Attacks on Coptic Christians
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One major flashpoint is an antiquated law restricting the construction of churches. While Muslims need only a municipal permit to build a mosque, Christians require security clearance and presidential approval to construct or renovate churches – a bureaucratic process that can take up to 30 years. As a result, the country’s 2,000 churches stand alongside nearly 100,000 mosques.
Youssef Sidhom, editor of Al-Watani Coptic weekly newspaper, says the discriminatory treatment is one of the main sources of friction between Christians and Muslims.
"The absence of a unified law (for church and mosque construction) represents the major detonator of the sectarian violence that has been steadily escalating and that reached an unprecedented level of bloodshed in 2010," he wrote in an editorial published last week.
Equally contentious is the topic of conversion, with both sides accusing the other of kidnappings and forced conversions. The most recent case involves the wives of two Coptic priests rumored to have converted to Islam in order to obtain divorces, which are barred by the church.
Muslims have accused Coptic clerics of imprisoning the two women in monasteries and pressuring them to publicly renounce their conversion. Church officials deny that the women converted or are being held against their will.
Saturday’s church bombing has inflamed sectarian tensions across Egypt. Shortly after the explosion, enraged Christians clashed with police and ransacked a nearby mosque, prompting fights with Muslims. Clashes with security forces erupted throughout the day as Coptic protestors blamed the government for not doing enough to protect them.
An ominous gloom has settled over Egypt’s Coptic community as families prepare to celebrate Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 7. Islamist groups have threatened to bomb churches on the holiday, which also marks the one-year anniversary of the Nag Hammadi massacre. Church leaders have decided to call off all public celebrations.