Egyptian Police Continue to Arrest Suspects
in Christian-Muslim Violence
Coptic Church Says Police, Security Forces
Participated in Violence
9 January 2000 (Newsroom) -- Egyptian police arrested two 
more Muslims suspects on Friday believed to be responsible for 
the violence that killed 20 Christians and one Muslim in two 
villages in Upper Egypt over the New Year's Eve weekend. Two 
Muslims were charged with murder on Thursday. Police said on 
Friday that a total of 15 Muslim suspects have been arrested in the 
worst sectarian violence Egypt has seen since 1980.

A financial dispute between a Muslim and a Christian shopkeeper 
sparked the clashes on December 31, according to witnesses. The 
violence escalated when the Muslim and his brothers attacked the 
manís shop and those of other Christians. Three days of religiously 
motivated killing, rioting, and looting plagued the predominately 
Coptic Christian village of Al Kosheh, residents said. The clashes 
spread to nearby Dar el-Salam and Awlad Toq Garb. 

The threat of further violence kept Christians from celebrating 
midnight mass to usher in the Coptic Orthodox Christmas on 
Friday, news reports said. According to a report submitted by two 
bishops to Coptic Pope Shenouda, Christians in the area "now live 
in fear, they are not even able to open the windows or doors of 
their homes." Pope Shenouda's emissaries, who visited the area last 
week, criticized state security police for "(n)ot acting despite their 
previous knowledge of the mounting tensions and anticipation of 
violence."

The Egyptian government newspaper Al-Gomhuriya reported on 
Sunday that Egypt will compensate the victims. Social Affairs 
Minister Amina al-Guindi said that $900 would be given to 
families of the dead. Every injured person and owner of a business 
that was destroyed would receive $300, she said. 

Pope Shenouda's emissaries said they were concerned that the 
violence could flare up again if action is not taken against state 
security officers and local police, who they charge with 
collaborating with Muslim attackers. In 1998, residents of Al 
Kosheh accused police of brutally interrogating some 1,000 
Christians in a murder investigation that drew international 
attention. The Egyptian government exonerated the police and 
insisted that the incident was not religiously motivated. 

The government blamed the recent violence in Al Kosheh on 
"criminal violence-seeking elements who manipulated conflicting 
reactions between Muslims and Christians on business matters." 

In a statement, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights said 
that what happened in Al Kosheh "doesn't represent a social 
phenomenon but at the same time is not just an accident."

Freedom House Middle East analyst Joseph Assad, a native 
Egyptian, however, told Newsroom that there is a deep-seated 
social problem between Egypt's Muslims and Christians. He notes 
that EOHR head Hafez Abu Saada was detained for five days at 
the end of 1998 for his reporting on the 1998 Al Kosheh incident 
and is likely being "very careful not to say anything about religious 
persecution."

"To say there was no religion factor in this is inaccurate," Assad 
said. "It's an attempt to cover the root problem. But if we don't 
address it, it will persist." Beneath the surface, Assad says, are 
social tensions waiting to erupt because Copts are not seen "as 
partners and equal citizens" in Egypt. They are not well 
represented in the government and police force and are subject to 
discriminatory laws, including one that hinders building new 
churches, he pointed out.

In its International Religious Freedom Report issued last 
September, the U.S. State Department said it was unclear whether 
the 1998 Al Kosheh incident was religiously motivated. Last 
Monday, however, five U.S. Congressmen sent a letter to President 
Hosni Mubarak regarding the recent clashes, stating that "it 
appears that the foundation of this unfortunate incident is 
religious."

Some 80 percent of Egypt's Copts live in Upper Egypt, the 
southern part of the country. "A strong message needs to be sent by 
the government that violence against Christians will not be 
tolerated," said Assad, noting that earlier this year the killer of a 
Coptic priest received only a four year sentence.

In a mass to celebrate the Orthodox Christmas, Pope Shenouda 
made no direct reference to the violence but referred to centuries 
of peaceful relations between Muslims and Christians in Egypt. 

Assad says that he agrees that Muslim and Christian issues should 
be presented in ways that help foster a sense of tolerance and 
togetherness. "But when the government tried to brush aside Al 
Kosheh in 1998, it erupted again; it blew up in their faces," he 
said. "That is the last thing Egypt wanted at the dawn of a new 
millennium, when they were trying to encourage tourism."

ENDS

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