Egyptian Christians protest over a church burning

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 18, 2011 4:38 PM
Egyptian Christians protest over a church burning

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian Christians protested for a second day on Monday after a church was set on fire on the outskirts of Cairo, the latest sectarian flare-up in a country already facing political turmoil.

About 5,000 people gathered outside the state television building late into Monday night, a bigger crowd than the 1,000 or so that had demonstrated late on Sunday and into Monday morning. Some Muslims joined the mostly Christian protest.

"Oh Field Marshal, why are you silent?" they chanted, a reference to Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi who heads Egypt's ruling military council, which has been in power since Hosni Mubarak stepped down on February 11 amid widespread protests.

Tantawi has said the army would rebuild the church before Easter holidays.

Witnesses and a security source said the church in Helwan, on the outskirts of Cairo, was torched after a row sparked by relationship between a Christian man and a Muslim woman.

Such interfaith relationships often cause tensions in Muslim-majority Egypt, where Christians make up about 10 percent of the country's 80 million people. Christians have long complained about unfair treatment, including rules they say make it easier to build a mosque than a church.

Members of the woman's Muslim family clashed among themselves over the affair and two Muslim men were killed. Muslims from the woman's village then burned the church on Saturday, witnesses said.

As well as demanding the damaged church be rebuilt, the demonstrators also said there should be a law ensuring equal treatment regarding building mosques and churches.

Last year Egypt saw more than its usual share of sectarian strife, and a rights groups has said such clashes have been on the rise. But mass political protests that ousted Mubarak on February 11 brought Muslims and Christians together.