Egyptian Muslims gunned down six members of the Coptic Christian community last week, setting off riots that resulted in the bloodiest religious clashes in ten years.
Muslim-Coptic clashes have worsened in the past two years, but the Egyptian government called last week’s slaughter an “isolated incident.” However, Coptic officials said that in November, Muslim rioters burned most of the Christian businesses in another village, only 36 hours after an attack in another town.
Egypt often has been accused by several leading U.S. Congressmen for violating religious as well as individual rights. The Coptic Church is said to be the oldest church in Egypt. Pope Benedict XVI condemned the violence, three days after the attack.
Following last week's violence, Egyptian police arrested three men, who are said to be known criminals, for gunning down half a dozen Coptics and a Muslim guard, setting fire to four Christian houses around midnight on the Coptic Christmas Eve. The attack took place in southern Egypt, and Egyptian media said it was in retaliation for an alleged rape of a 12-year-old Muslim by a Christian two month ago
The local Christian community retaliated the following morning with riots that were met with 200 truckloads of Egyptian riot police. At least a dozen shops, seven houses and three motorbikes were torched durng the clashes, the worst since 2000 when 21 Christians and two Muslims died following an argument that brought out years of simmering tensions.
One Egyptian newspaper pointed out that unlike previous spontaneous attacks, last week’s murders were planned, reflecting growing Islamic radicalism.
The independent newspaper Al-Dostour stated in an editorial, “I don't want to alarm you. But I don't think this trend will disappear during the next few years. Nothing on the horizon suggests it will. One hundred percent of the attacks against Coptic churches ... in Upper Egypt do not involve Muslim extremists or terrorists groups, but members of the public, normal people who never joined a terrorist or militant group.”