JAFFA, Israel – Several injuries have been reported in a scuffle between Christians and Muslims in central Egypt.
The unrest in the village of Alkharsa in the Benisuef region started after villagers spread a rumor that a church was being built in one of the Christian homes.
Following Friday prayers at the local mosque, some worshipers approached the “suspicious” house and started throwing stones at it.
Some Christians retaliated, though police said no firearms had been in use.
Witnesses said that the village looked like a battlefield. At the height of the fight, police surrounded the house, turning themselves into a human buffer to fend off the rioters.
The clashes were filmed and broadcast by the Egyptian media.
A Christian resident told the local media that they were surprised to see young Muslims attacking the house, which was under construction.
“There are 50 Christian families living in the village, all in perfect harmony with our Muslim brothers, for decades and generations,” he said. “We never thought of building a church inside the village, even though it doesn’t have one.”
“Some of the young Muslims behaved in a reckless manner after they thought a church was being built,” a Muslim villager said. “We live in peace, and after the police interfered things returned to normal.”
An Egyptian official said a permit had been given to build a Christian community center, “but the residents thought that the second floor would function as a church, and in the meantime we ordered the construction to stop so that we can check whether the construction didn’t abide by the permit.”
The local police announced that an officer was hurt in the clashes, and that peace was restored a few hours after they broke out.
In May, severe clashes broke out in Egypt’s Delta region after a Christian man was suspected of being in a relationship with a Muslim woman. Dozens of Christian homes were attacked, and an elderly Christian woman was undressed and paraded naked on the streets in an act that scandalized the Coptic community in Egypt and other communities worldwide.
Coptic Pope Tawadros II recently protested the government’s slow handling of a legal amendment that would facilitate church building in the country.
He said that the current legislation imposes unreasonable restrictions on the construction of Christian places of worship, and makes it dependent on the goodwill of bureaucrats.
“Our feeling is that we’re not being treated as equal citizens,” he said. “Christian worship has become a crime and a transgression, as if the Christian needs a special permit to meet his god.”