Drivers’ Dispute Spirals Into Sectarian Violence in Egypt

Egyptian Coptic Christians chant slogans during a demonstration outside the state television building in central Cairo on March 9, 2011 a day after ten people have been killed in religious clashes between Muslims and Copts in the city when Christians gathered to protest the burning of a church last week. …

The Egyptian police arrested at least 18 people this week after they were allegedly involved in sectarian clashes between Christians and Muslims in the Minya district in the Nile Delta region.

The detainees are likely to be indicted for assault after a dispute between drivers, one Muslim and the other Christian, escalated into large-scale violence that involved stone throwing.

Sharif Saad, the Christian defendants’ attorney, called on the state prosecution to indict the Muslim defendants for attempted murder and property damage, saying that one Coptic man was critically wounded and properties set ablaze. He also said that the less serious cases were likely to be closed as part of a reconciliation process between the two communities, adding that the Coptic man involved in the initial altercation was an Egyptian soldier.

The local church published a statement saying, “Similar clashes erupted in the same village in July, for which nobody has been punished.”

This week’s clashes came against the backdrop of attempts by Egypt’s national media to highlight cross-community harmony for the Muslim holiday of Eid al Adha. The story of Adel Rasmi, a Christian butcher who volunteered to help his Muslim neighbors carry out the traditional lamb slaughter ahead of the festival, was prominently covered.

Rasmi said he had been doing it every Eid from a young age to the point that his Muslim friends started calling him “The butcher of the Muslims.”

“I am privileged to have won the trust of my Muslim brothers,” he said. “It shows that people can love each other, regardless of their religion.”