03/04/2013, 00.00
EGYPT
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Christians and Muslims protest in Cairo against anti-minority violence

Since January, Salafists and other Muslim radicals have attacked Christians in four locations, setting fire to churches and homes. In Bani Suef, a court sent to prison two minors as well as a woman and her seven children on issues related to religion. In Alexandria, Salafist gunmen kill five men suspected of building a church.

Cairo (AsiaNews) - Thousands of Christians and Muslims demonstrated yesterday in front of the United Nations Information Office in Cairo to protest the continuing violence and harassment of minorities.

In a press release, the Maspero Youth Union, an organisation that defends the rights of Christians and young people involved in the Arab spring, slammed the Salafists for attacking Christians in four different locations since January.

During the attacks, churches and homes were set on fire in Shubra al-Kheima, in Greater Cairo, as well as Sarsena (Tamiya District, Fayoum, central Egypt), Bani Suef (115 km south of Cairo) and Kom Ombo (Aswan province, Upper Egypt).

The activists blame the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled government for allowing local clerics and religious authorities to "stir anti-Christian hatred" and letting "Salafists attack people and property undisturbed".

The worst case was reported on 23 February in Borg el Arab, just outside Alexandria, when armed men killed four Christians and a Muslims, guards at a construction site.

Raymon Malak Zaki, the brother of one of the Christians killed, said that area belongs to his family. To stop a spate of thefts and attacks, his brother and four friends had decided to guard the area.

Earlier, Islamists had seized the site claiming that Christians wanted to build a church. They eventually left after the owners signed a note promising that a church would not be built on it.

"We bought the land, and we have paid local Islamists to end their threats, and yet the violence has not stopped," Zaki said.

Gunmen, he explained, forced their way into the homes of three of the four Christians and shot them in cold blood. The fifth man, a Muslim, was killed at the construction site.

All this occurred with impunity. "The day of the murders I waited at the morgue for a whole day for the coroner," he explained.

Although police inspected the crime scene, no autopsy has not been done yet.  

Zaki fears that the authorities are trying to cover up the incident to avoid further sectarian violence.

For decades, Islamists have used the country's vague rules on places of worship, adopted under the Mubarak regime, to prevent Christians from building their own places of worship. Even repairing an existing building can take years because of red tape.

Since the Muslim Brotherhood came to power, the situation has worsened. Feeling emboldened, Islamists now go so far as to try to prevent Christians from building houses for themselves.

Making matters worse, Muslim radicals are not the only group harassing Orthodox Copts and other Christians.

Courts are now going after minorities as well, especially in Upper Egypt, where judges affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood constitute a powerful lobby.

Last week, a court in Beni Suef refused to hear an appeal for the release of two children, aged nine and ten, from prison. They have been behind bars since October 2012 waiting to go on trial for desecrating the Qur'an.

On 14 January, the same court sentenced a woman and her seven children to 15 years in prison for converting to Christianity.

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