CAIRO (AFP) – Egyptian police have arrested 59 people, all Muslims, after clashes broke out in a village as Muslims opposed the extension of a local church, security sources said on Saturday.
Eleven Christians were hurt in Friday’s fighting, the sources said, and 25 Christian homes and five shops were damaged.
The arrests followed clashes in Bamha village, 25 kilometres (15 miles) south of Cairo, sparked by Muslim anger over plans to build an extension to a church on a disputed strip of land wedged between the church and a mosque.
The 59 are now being held for questioning and are expected to be charged with “inciting unrest, threatening public order, property damage and attempted murder,” the sources told AFP.
Following the Muslim weekly prayers, worshippers at the village’s main mosque began distributing leaflets that read: “We condemn the building of churches in our beautiful town.”
“The leaflet was found by a local Coptic resident who rounded up other Christians and headed for the mosque,” another source told AFP.
Hundreds of security forces were rushed to the scene, sealing off the village, where Muslims outnumber Christians by more than 10 to one, and initially making 15 arrests.
Egypt’s Christians, who account for around 10 percent of the 76 million population, need authorisations to build churches, while the construction of mosques is virtually unrestricted.
Similar clashes took place in the same village in February 2006 when 32 residents were arrested.
In April 2006, a 78-year-old Coptic man was killed by a knife-wielding assailant who attacked three churches in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria.
Another person died in ensuing clashes between Muslims and Copts.
The authorities detained the assailant and described him as “mentally unstable”, sparking the ire of Copts who accused the government of failing to protect them and seeking to cover up the possibility of an Islamist attack.