By Eric Leijenaar, BosNewsLife Senior Special Correspondent
CAIRO, EGYPT (BosNewsLife)– Hundreds of angry Muslims on Saturday, November 21, burnt Christian shops and attacked a police station in southern Egypt where a Christian was being held on suspicion of “sexually assaulting” a Muslim girl, police said.
The clashes in the town of Dwarshout in Qena province broke out after police detained a Coptic Christian man who villagers claimed “kidnapped” and “assaulted” a 12-year-old Muslim girl. Security officials put her age between 18 and 30.
Police repelled the demonstrators using tear gas and arrested up to 60 people during the clashes in which seven Coptic Christian-owned shops were destroyed, according to police and witnesses.
The violence came amid claims of increased attacks and threats against Coptic Christians, who comprise roughly ten percent of Egypt’s 80-million-strong population.
Egyptian security forces recently intensified their presence in the Egyptian town of Dairout, after Copts reportedly expressed their concerns over leaflets entitled “These have to Die!”. The publications urge Muslims in the area to “burn, vandalize and clean the country of these evil immoral infidels,” Christians said.
The threatening leaflets distributed in Dairout, about 300 kilometers (186 miles) south of Cairo, came after violence apparently erupted in the town on October 24 following Muslim claims of an “illicit” relationship between a Muslim girl, Hagger Hassouna, and the Christian, Romany Farouk Attallah.
Amid mounting tensions, there have also been clashes between Copts and Muslims, sparked by disputes over inter-marriage and conversion and over land and religious
In July police arrested 37 Muslims and Christians over the killing of a Muslim man and violence that followed.
An Egyptian court last Sunday, November 15, sentenced two Christian men to death for killing the Muslim husband of a female relative who allegedly “converted” to Islam against her family’s wishes.
While Christian groups condemn violence, there has been concern among rights activists over reports of unfair trials and cooperation between security forces and Muslim extremists in some areas of the country. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).