REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- Eight Christian Coptic families have been evicted from their village in the coastal governorate of Alexandria after violence erupted last month amid rumors of an affair between a Coptic man and a Muslim woman.
A report issued by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) confirmed Sunday that the Coptic residents had been told to leave their homes after a reconciliation session sponsored by local police, Muslim clerics and a Coptic priest was held Feb. 1.
The unrest stems from a Jan. 27 incident when homes and shops owned by Copts were looted and attacked by hundreds of Muslims angry over the alleged romance. One Coptic home was set ablaze. In its report, the EIPR condemned the "collective punishment" of Christians in the village of Ameriya based on an "individual act of social dishonor" by one Copt.
The report criticized police for not only failing to protect Copts from assault by Muslims, but also for overseeing and supporting an agreement that forced the deportation of Copts from their homes. "The EIPR harshly condemns the failure of police and army forces to protect Christian residents' homes and property," the report said.
Clashes between Copts, who make up about 10% of the population, and majority Muslims have intensified in recent years over alleged romantic affairs or the conversion of Copts to Islam or vice-versa. Such cases have sharpened sectarian tensions, especially since last year's overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak and the rise of Islamist political parties. Extremists Muslims set fire to churches in a poor Cairo neighborhood in May, and 24 Coptic protesters were killed by thugs and security forces during a demonstration calling for Christian rights in October.
The Mubarak regime had long been criticized by human rights advocates for skirting national laws and constitutional rights by sponsoring customary and local settlements of religious-related disputes.
"The EIPR utterly rejects the perpetuation of Mubarak-era policies that force victims of sectarian attacks — particularly those who have no stake in the original dispute — to accept the outcomes of illegal reconciliation processes and thus compel them to abandon their rights and accept the assaults on them," the report added.
A number of political parties and movements have also expressed exasperation over authorities' handling of the conflict. A joint statement issued by movements including the Popular Socialist Coalition Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and the Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination Movement, condemned the eviction of Coptic families.
-- Amro Hassan
Photo: A Coptic demonstration calling for Christians' rights in Egypt last November. Credit: Associated Press