Al Qaeda just announced that it’s open season on Christians in the Muslim world. I don’t think they had to tell us that, it always has been.
The Blaze – Muslim mobs set two Cairo churches on fire overnight during sectarian clashes that left 12 dead and more than 200 injured. The deepening religious violence in military-ruled Egypt exacerbated an already chaotic and lawless transition to democracy.
Mobs of ultraconservative Muslims attacked the St. Menas church in the Cairo slum of Imbaba late Saturday following rumors that a Christian woman married to a Muslim man had been abducted. Local residents said a separate mob of youths armed with knives and machetes attacked the Virgin Mary church several blocks away with firebombs.
“People were scared to come near them,” said local resident Adel Mohammed, 29, who lives near the Virgin Mary Church. “They looked scary. They threw their firebombs at the church and set parts of it ablaze.”
Interfaith relationships are taboo in Egypt, where the Muslim majority and sizable Christian minority are both largely conservative. Such relationships are often the source of deadly clashes between the faiths.
In the months that followed the toppling of Mubarak on Feb. 11, there has been a sharp rise in sectarian tensions, fueled in part by newly active ultraconservative Muslim movement, known as the Salafis.
The once quiescent Salafis have become more assertive post-revolution in trying to spread their ultraconservative version of an Islamic way of life. In particular, they have focused their wrath on Egypt’s Christians, who make up 10 percent of the country’s 80 million people.
On Friday, a few hundred Salafis marched through Cairo celebrating al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and condemning the U.S. operation that killed him.
Critics say Egyptian military authorities have done too little to stem the religious violence. But authorities arrested 190 people, immediately, sending them to military prosecutions and threatening the maximum penalty against anyone attacking houses of worship. It was the military’s toughest response yet to a series of violent clashes between the two religious groups.
The clashes were set off Saturday around sundown when word spread around the low-income neighborhood of Imbaba that a Christian woman who married a Muslim was abducted and is being kept in the church against her will.
The report, which was never confirmed by local religious figures, sent a large mob of Muslims toward the St. Menas church. Christians created a human barricade around the church and clashes erupted. Gunfire sounded across the neighborhood, and witnesses said people on rooftops nearby were firing into the crowd.
Residents say Christians were hiding inside. Muslims were chanting: “With our blood and soul, we defend you Islam.” Later the same night, witnesses said a separate Muslim mob, mostly youths armed with machetes and knives, moved to the Virgin Mary church nearby and also set it on fire.
The new tensions erupted after a year of Salafi protests against the alleged abduction by the Coptic Church of a priest’s wife, Camilla Shehata. The Salafis claim, she converted to Islam to escape an unhappy marriage — a phenomenon they maintain is common.
If a Christian woman marries a Muslim, she is expelled from the church. A Muslim woman is not allowed to marry a Christian man, according to state law. Because divorce is banned under the Coptic Church, with rare exceptions, some Christian women resort to conversion to Islam or another Christian denomination to get out of a marriage.