Eight Coptic families have been forcibly removed from their Egyptian village because of an alleged affair between a Christian man and a Muslim woman, Christian activists revealed. However, Christians insist the case was used as an excuse to unjustly persecute local believers.
What is more, many are calling the January incident an instance of abuse of power by Egypt's predominantly Muslim population, now under the authority and protection of the Muslim Brotherhood, who won the majority of parliament seats in this year's elections.
The incident occurred late last month in Sharbat, a village in Alexandria, Egypt, where Christians saw their Muslim neighbors burn down their shops, sell their property and then force them to leave the village, according to GulfNews.com. What reportedly angered the Muslim residents were images circulating mobile phones in the area which allegedly showed a Christian man having an affair with a Muslim woman.
A survey from George Washington University recently showed that Coptic Christians, the largest Christian denomination in Egypt, are becoming more involved in Egyptian politics since the nation's 2011 revolution – despite sporadic clashes between believers and the state military, including an incident in October that killed 23 Coptic Christian protesters and left hundreds of people injured.
Dr. Jennifer Brinkerhoff and Dr. Liesl Riddle of George Washington University found that the number of Copts involved in Egyptian political parties had gone from 1.1 percent to 3.4 percent.
"You start with a very, very small percentage, but despite the fact that it is small it is notable that it more than doubled," said Dr. Brinkerhoff.
Stories like the one from Sharbat, however, show that there is still a long way to go to improve relations between the country's divided faith groups.
The man rumored to have been having an affair with the Muslim woman was identified by NOW Lebanon as Murad Samy Guirguis, who reportedly handed himself over to the police after the incident occurred. The homes and property of his relatives were still set on fire, however, and after three reconciliation meetings with village elders, involving local police, it was then decided that eight families in the village should be evicted and their properties sold.
The Muslim Brotherhood apparently denied that any discrimination had taken place.
"[The conflict] ended with a decision by the village residents to remove the people of both Christian and Muslim families involved only, in order to prevent further bloodshed and sectarian trouble," a spokesperson for its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, said in a statement.
Christians, however, insist that they are being specifically targeted and persecuted because they are a minority presence in the region.
"What happened is a national disgrace. The people forced to leave the village have no link to the man accused of having an affair with the Muslim girl," said Hani Ramsis, a Coptic activist.
"This is a phenomenon, not a single incident," added Emad Jad, a Christian lawmaker. "There is deliberate insistence on sidelining the power of the law and leaving such issues for local people to resolve through reconciliation sessions."
The lawmaker has made a report of the incident to the newly-elected parliament, hoping that he can prove that such injustice is a larger phenomenon that needs serious consideration.
"This issue is underlined by two crimes: collective punishment and arbitrary emigration, which threaten to give rise to demographic discrimination in Egypt," Jad explained
According to GulfNews.com, hundreds of Christians on Sunday gathered in front of the parliament in Cairo to protest the evictions. There were no reports of any violence.