Clashes Erupt After Murder of Christian Man in Egypt

Clashes broke out in a southern Egyptian village Saturday after Muslim youth began throwing stones at Coptic Christian churches and homes in the area in response to the extended detention four Muslim murder suspects.

The suspects, all related to a girl at the center of the latest Muslim-Christian row, are being probed by police over their involvement in the murder of a Coptic man who was shot dead on Oct. 18 in the village of Attaleen, near the southern city of Assiut.

According to rumors, the ones who had killed Henry Atallah had actually sought to attack his son, who was dating a young Muslim woman and was allegedly distributing explicit pictures of her by mobile phone and CD.

 They instead found the elderly Atallah in his car, where his body would later be discovered.

Since Atallah's death, police have detained members of the young Muslim woman's family for questioning and on Saturday a prosecutor ordered the relatives' detention to be extended for 15 days.

In response, friends and relatives of the detainees began throwing rocks in the southern village of Dayrut and were met back with verbal and physical retaliation from friends and relatives of the slain Christian man.

Police eventually intervened and, in the end, eight people – from both faiths – were taken to the hospital.

Such clashes are not uncommon in Eypt, which has witnessed a growing divide between the Christian and Muslim communities in recent years.

Though Muslims and Christians once lived side-by-side with few conflicts and establishing lifelong friendships, Christians and Muslims there today live in separate neighborhoods and send their children to separate religious schools.

Furthermore, Christians in the predominantly Muslim country are not allowed to construct or fix churches unless they receive a permit, nearly all requests for which are denied. Meanwhile, there are no such building permits necessary for the construction or fixing of mosques.

Although Egypt's Christian population is small, making up 10 percent of the overall population, it stands as the largest Christian community in the Middle East and is also among the oldest.

Egypt has been cited in the U.S. Center for International Religious Freedom's "Watch List" as a country with serious religious freedom violations, including widespread problems of discrimination, intolerance, and other human rights violations against members of religious minorities, as well as non-conforming Muslims.