CAIRO -- Two Christian boys have been arrested for allegedly urinating on the Koran, agitating tensions across Egypt amid rising accusations of blasphemy after the furor last month over a film made in California that ridiculed the prophet Muhammad.
Egyptian media reported that brothers Nabil Nadi, 9, and Mina Nadi, 10, were placed in juvenile detention Tuesday in a southern village in Beni Suef province. The boys were taken into custody after a cleric told authorities they ripped up pages of the Koran and urinated on two holy books.
It was unclear whether the pair were coerced or acted on their own. Authorities said the boys could be held for up to 15 days while police investigate. The Egyptian Independent newspaper reported that the cleric “brought the kids to the local bishop and insisted someone else had incited them to desecrate the Korans and throw them near the mosque.”
The case is the latest in a series of blasphemy charges brought by conservative Islamists against Coptic Christians, who make up about 10% of the population of 82 million. A teacher has been interrogated for allegedly demeaning the prophet in one of her lessons; a Coptic man may face trial for posts on his Facebook page considered offensive to Islam.
Human rights activists warn that such cases endanger freedom of speech and foreshadow restrictions on civil liberties at a time Islamists and secular liberals are drafting a new constitution. Islamists dominate the constituent assembly and liberals fear the document will be heavily weighted in sharia, or Islamic law.
Ultraconservative Islamists have been emboldened since violent protests flared across the world last month over the film "Innocence of Muslims," which depicted Muhammad as a womanizer and child molester.
In Egypt, the fallout from the film further strained relations between Muslims and Christians, already tested by attacks on churches and homes over the last year. The new government of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi has been unable to allay sectarian suspicions.
-- Jeffrey Fleishman