The Coptic Pope Shenuda III barred Egyptian Christians from praying in a church building in Cairo Tuesday after sectarian violence broke out this past weekend over the building’s use as a Christian prayer hall.
At least eight men were arrested on Sunday night when Muslims clashed with Coptic Christians in the neighborhood of Ein Shams to protest the use of the property for prayer, according to state news agency MENA.
Muslims reportedly threw stones and burned two cars during the riot.
In response to the clash, Pope Shenuda III ordered Copts to cease praying in the church-owned building that was previously an unused factory.
Following the clash, Copts complained about the unfair law that requires them to be granted presidential permission before building a church or expanding an existing church. The authorization is difficult to near impossible to get and many Christians feel the law exists only to oppress the Christian minority community in a country where 90 percent or more of the population is Muslim.
Relations between Egyptian Muslims and the Christian minority were in the past peaceful, but have recently grown strained. Conversions to Christianity and a growing tendency to work and live among members of one’s religion have escalated tension between the two groups.
There are an estimated 10 million Copts in Egypt, or the equivalent of about 10 percent of the population. The Coptic population, or the Orthodox Christians of Egypt, is the largest group of Christians in the Middle East.