10/22/2005, 00.00
EGYPT
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Two killed and dozens wounded in anti-Christian demonstration in Egypt

Muslims are up in arms against Copts for a play dubbed as "offensive to Islam". Christian leaders: "The work is against extremism, not Muslims". This could well be a strategy of the Internal Affairs Ministry to create tension before the election.

Alexandria (AsiaNews/Agencies) – At least two people were killed and dozens wounded in a heavy clash between police and 5,000 Muslims. The large crowd was protesting yesterday in Alexandria in front of the Christian Coptic Church against a play dubbed as "offensive to Islam".

Two days before, also outside the door of St George's Church a 19-year-old stabbed a Sister and a Christian lawyer. After his arrest, the youth declared he had acted out of revenge because a play offensive to Islam had been performed in the church.

The police said the crowd gathered yesterday after midday prayer in the Aulad El Sheikh mosque: there, during the Friday homily, the imam had urged tolerance prescribed in the Koran for the two other monotheistic religions. After the prayer, the crowd shifted to the Muharram Bik neighbourhood where the Christian Coptic Church of St George is located. They shouted slogans like "we will sacrifice ourselves for Islam with our body and blood".

The demonstration was sparked by a video screened once in the church two years ago in the context of an anti-terrorism campaign. A week ago, some local newspapers had mentioned the video, currently being circulated in Alexandria on DVD, defining it as "offensive to Islam" and claiming that it was being distributed by Christians.

The play in question is called "I Once Was Blind But Now I See", and it tells the story of a poor young Christian who converted to Islam in a bid to overcome his poverty. When he regrets his decision and seeks to return to the Christian faith, he is not allowed to reconvert and is threatened with death.

Christian leaders maintain the drama highlights the danger of extremist religion, not of Islam, The Church leader, Fr Augustinos, said it was difficult to justify such a protest because the play was screened only once, two years ago. "There are so many questions on what is behind all of that," he said, adding that the boy was ultimately saved from certain death by a Muslim friend.

Egyptian public security officials said the extremist Muslim community was behind the distribution of the DVD version of the drama; they were aiming to create tension between ethnic and religious groups in view of the upcoming legislative election on 9 November.

The Christian Coptic community makes up 10% of the largely Muslim (89%) population of 72 million inhabitants. Christians lament discrimination in public positions and employment; they also complain of difficulties in obtaining permits for the construction of churches and there is fear of violence if a Muslim should convert to Christianity. There are also charges of forced conversion to Islam.

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