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EGYPT: 24 injured in Muslim-Christian clashes in coastal city

March 13, 2010 |  8:56 am


Tensions are heating up again between Egypt's Muslim majority and embattled Christian minority.

Twenty-four people, including two security officers, were injured during clashes between Muslims and Copts in the northern governorate of Matrouh on Friday, a security official confirmed Saturday.

Violence erupted in the city of Marsa Matrouh, 330 miles northwest of Cairo, when extremist Muslims pelted stones at cars and workers building a fence around a Coptic center for medical and social services.

Matrouh security officials say the angry Muslims thought the fence was being constructed to allow the center to take over an additional piece of nearby land to build a new church.

"Around 400 people were involved in the fighting. Twenty people were arrested, both Muslims and Christians, and 24 were injured," one official said.

It took several hours before security forces reimposed order. The head of Matrouh security, Gen. Hussein Fekri, announced Saturday that the city is back to its normal calm.

The coastal governorate is an unlikely location for clashes. Most violent confrontations between Muslims and Copts take place in southern towns and cities, where numbers of Copts are nearly similar or more than their Muslim counterparts.

Matrouh has an estimated population of 380,000 with only 7,000 of its inhabitants being Copts.

The incident comes nearly two months after the whole of Egypt was rocked by the shooting of six Copts and one Muslim outside a church in Nagaa Hammadi, 420 miles south of Cairo, on the eve of the Coptic Christmas.

Egypt's Christians, mostly Copts, form 10% of the country's population. They are the largest non-Muslim community in the Middle East and have long complained of religious, social and political discrimination.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Police stand guard behind a car that was damaged in clashes between Muslims and Christians in the Mediterranean coastal town of Marsa Matrouh. Credit: EPA