Egypt: Love affair leads to riot
- Rumours of love affair spark sectarian clashes in Egypt
Cairo - Accounts of a love story between a young Christian man and a
Muslim woman turned sour, prompting rumours, sectarian clashes and
arrests in the once cosmopolitan port city of Alexandria. On Monday,
25 Christians and Muslims answered to charges including disturbing the
peace, damaging public property and using sharp objects as weapons.
The angry young men had pelted each other with stones and shards of
broken glass, damaging nearby cars and private property in the process.
The brawl ensued late Friday in a poor part of the Sidi Bishr district
during prayers that are held in observance of the holy month of
Ramadan during which Muslims fast and make supplications to God.
"Throngs of people were attacking each other. A man wearing a face
veil was throwing stones at Christians, and women were standing in
balconies cheering on the Muslims, shouting 'God is Great'," said a
Christian witness. "They shouted 'Christians are sons of dogs'."
According to the witness, the Christian groups sought refuge from the
stones in entrances to buildings. Six Muslims were injured in the
clashes as well as three Christians.
The truth is lost about the real cause of the clashes as both groups
hurled accusations at each other and circulated different accounts.
As Muslims alleged that a love story had illicitly developed between
21-year-old Sami Samir and a young woman, Christians rejected the
accounts saying that Muslims had attacked them for other reasons.
"The Muslim guys are only jealous because our family has a car and two
cafeterias while being Christian," said a relative of Samir.
The incidence of religiously-motivated violence is escalating in
Alexandria, a city that used to be home to Jews, Muslims, and
Christians and sheltered many expatriate foreign communities until the
Observers believe that Alexandria is gradually embracing religious
radicalism and a form of bigotry alien to its reputation as a tolerant
Despite being a summer resort, popular for its long stretches of
beaches and sea activities, the attire of women in particular is
becoming more and more conservative even on hot summer days.
Men wearing white ankle-length robes and women dressed in black from
head to toe except for two slits for the eyes are a common sight.
Mosques and churches have started replacing other societal
institutions, offering not only moral direction but also social, legal
and political guidance to the faithful.
Whether they blame the so-called Salafi movements, followers of a
strict form of Islam akin to Saudi Arabia's austere Wahabism or the
popular Muslim Brotherhood, many observers have agreed that the
"overly-conservative religious groups" had a role in changing the face
An Alexandrian recounted how a sheikh kept intimidating him after
discovering that he was a Christian. "He would ask me why I believed
in the Bible. I used to run from him."
Although a leader of the conservative Muslim Brotherhood himself, Ali
Abdel-Fatah believes that religious clerics are using the economic and
political turmoil that Egypt is enduring to mobilize Muslims and
Christians against each other.
"In Alexandria, Muslims take shelter in mosques. Christians find
asylum in their church. This leads to the blunt expression of
religious views and so clashes, and confrontations ensue," said
"When a love affair turns into a sectarian row, we know we have a big
problem," said Kamal Habib, member of the Supreme Church Council in
Alexandria. "A road accident could easily spur a religious rift these
The recent street riots in Alexandria rekindled memories of violent
incidents in 2006 when an extremist, claimed by security authorities
to have been mentally deranged, attacked four churches in Alexandria.
An elderly Coptic citizen was stabbed to death and five others were
In 2005, on two consecutive Fridays, Muslims attacked St George's
Church in Alexandria's Moharam Bek district, incensed by the leaking
of a CD containing a play performed inside the church and considered
disdainful of the Prophet Mohammed.
"The state cannot punish the church like it punishes religious
institutions and so people take matters into their own hands and seek
to regain their rights by use of force," said Abdel-Fatah.
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