Egypt Releases Remaining Coptic Detainees

Egyptian authorities have released the last batch of Coptic Christians detained after last month's four-day, round-the-clock sit-in at the Coptic Orthodox cathedral in Egypt's capital. According to judicial sources the nine detainees, arrested for allegedly injuring at least 60 policemen, were allowed to return to their homes after posting bail of 50 dollars each.

Last month, hundreds of Coptic Christians—Egypt's largest Christian denomination— staged protests in Cairo and in the west delta province of Beheira following the alleged abduction and forced conversion of Wefaa Constantine—the wife of a Coptic priest—to Islam. According to news agencies, the protesters gathered at a Coptic cathedral in the Cairo district of Abbasiya on Dec. 5, demanding the return of Constantine to church authorities.

Although the alleged abduction and forced conversion of Constantine sparked the protests, sources say the protest was also a response to the Egyptian government's sanction of anti-Coptic hate crimes such as arson, torture, murder, and the abduction, rape, and forced conversion of young Coptic women.

The sit-ins at the cathedral continued until the confrontation reached its climax Dec. 9 when church authorities instructed demonstrators to disperse after receiving assurances that Constantine had been handed over to a church council. By then, some 55 people had been injured and the 34 Christian demonstrators had been arrested.

On Dec. 23, 13 of the 34 Christians detained were released on humanitarian grounds, while the detention of the remaining 21 was been extended pending further investigations.

Although relations between Muslim and Christian communities are usually calm in Egypt, the confrontation was the second incident of sectarian strife in less than a week.

That same month, police said they arrested 25 people and were keeping apart Muslims and Christians in a village south of Cairo after Muslims had reportedly set ablaze two Christian-owned pharmacies and a bookstore, thrown stones at Christian homes and destroyed three police cars.