This article traces the history of sectarian tensions in Egypt, which have increased excessively in Upper Egypt.
Fitnah clashes occur all over Egypt; however, they are more violently-featured in Upper Egypt than in the Delta. They start individually for trivial reasons, and end violently with hundreds on each side. Security detains some individuals from both sides, who cannot be released except if they concede to reconciliatory ‘Urfī sessions. The Egyptian Centre for Development and Democratic Studies and the Egyptian Society for Supporting the Democratic Development have lately issued a report entitled, ’ How long will the sectarian congestion in Egypt last?’ They reported 13 sectarian incidents which took place during 2009.
The sectarian clashes between Muslims and Copts are relatively recent: the first that can be surveyed is the 1972 Khānkah; incident the 1981 Al-Zāwiyah al-Hamrā’ tension, the first in August, 1998 and the second in December, 1999. The Al-Kushh clashes, the 2007 Giza Maha village sectarian incident, in December, 2007; Qina’s Isnā village violent sectarian clash; the prominent May, 2008 Abū Fānā monastery sectarian tension; and in June, 2008 Fayyoum’s al-Nāzilah village clash. Now and then, similar clashes occur. The last was on last Saturday in Minia’s Dafsh village, over which the Coptic Orthodox Pope’s legal counselor Najīb Jibrā’īl appealed to President Mubārak to discharge the governor of Minia governorate, where sectarian clashes have exceeded the total of those occurring in the other the governorates.
The Head of the Egyptian organization for Human Rights, Hāfiz Abū Sa‘dah, endorsed by Abū Fānā monastery’s attorney, Ihāb Ramzī, confirmed that holding reconciliatory ‘Urfī sessions, and not applying penalties to the culprits, can further the tension. On the other hand, the Malawī Arabs’ attorney, Jamāl Musā‘id assured that ‘Urfī sessions settle the basically non-sectarian issues away from courts.
Professor of Criminal Sociology, Dr. ‘Azzah Kuraīym stated that violence in general is an increasing phenomenon in Egypt, and that it is a major mistake to classify it into sectarian and non-sectarian violence, and violence against women etc.. Therefore, violence between Muslims and Copts should not be highlighted in the media, as this only exacerbates problems.
One of Qina governorate’s clergymen asserted that most sectarian tensions in Upper Egypt are due to the transformation of houses into churches. The security bodies procrastinate in issuing the licenses. "There are villages with nine thousand Copts in them that have no churches. Where can Copts, there, perform their religious rites?"