A mob of Muslims in Egypt attacked Christians on Friday after being stirred up by a sermon and distributed leaflets that informed them that Christians were planning to build a church without permission.
Following a Muslim prayer meeting Friday, Christian homes and shops were set on fire and ten Coptic Christians were injured in clashes in the village of Bamha, about 15 miles south of Cairo, reported Agence France-Presse.
Hundreds of people from both faiths took up arms brandishing sticks, hatchets and hurling bricks and firebombs at one another.
"It's a recurring problem," commented Sameh Fawzi, an expert on Coptic affairs, according to Los Angeles Times. "Most sectarian conflicts that erupted in the past were due to fights over the construction of churches."
Under Egyptian law, no church can be constructed without a presidential decree. In constrast, the construction of mosques in Egypt is almost unrestricted.
Coptic Christians – who comprise the majority of Egypt's nearly 10 percent Christian population – have often complained about the restriction on building churches, pointing to it as an example of the discrimination faced by Christians in Egypt. Another major complaint by believers is their low representation in the Egyptian government compared to their population in the country.
It is still unclear, however, whether the Christians were planning to construct a new church or expand a house used for prayer and if they had a building permit.
On Friday, hundreds of police reportedly intervened and stopped the fight after at least 27 Christian-owned houses and shops were damaged by fire, according to Reuters.
Other recent sectarian clashes included one in the same village in February 2006 that resulted in the arrests of 32 residents, and in April 2006 when a 78-year-old Coptic man was killed by a Muslim man who attacked three churches in Alexandria, according to AFP.
In the latter violence, the government had labeled the Muslim attacker as "mentally unstable" causing anger among Coptics who said the government failed to protect them. The church attacks also caused three days of sectarian clashes that left one Muslim dead.
Egyptian security forces have arrested 59 Muslims in relations to Friday's attacks and charged them with arson and spreading sectarian strife on Saturday, according to Reuters. Additional Muslim villagers are detained without charges waiting for investigation. No Christians are being held.