On Friday May 11, 2007, sectarian violence rocked the Egyptian village of Bimhā, Giza, sparked by Muslim’s anger over Coptic Christians’ alleged plans to convert a house, owned by a Copt and used informally for prayer, into a church. Bihmā is home to 400 Christians out of a total population of 6,000.
Violence was the result of a rumor circulated among the village’s Muslims that expansion of the house, owned by Majdī Ḥannā, was a prelude to building a church without first obtaining a permit. Under Egyptian law, no church can be constructed without a presidential decree. Mosques however, are not subject to the same regulation.
Following the Muslim Friday prayers, worshippers at the village’s main mosque, approximately 500 individuals, began distributing leaflets that read: “We condemn the building of churches in our beautiful town.”
Worshippers emerged from the mosque in a large group and then moved to the church site, where clashes erupted. Some Christian inhabitants of Bimhā said that the mosque’s Imām wrote the leaflets and pushed Muslim villagers to destroy Coptic properties.
Attackers roamed through the village of Bimhā carrying hatchets, knives, and fuel canisters. Muslims and Christians reportedly threw firebombs and bricks at each other.
The clashes left 11 Copts suffering from burns, fractured bones and bruises, and at least 30 Christian-owned houses and shops were damaged by fire.
Hundreds of security forces arrived to the scene three hours after the riot began, sealed off the village, and managed to put an end to the clashes. The prosecution ordered the arrest of 59 suspects, mainly Muslims, on charges of arson and incitement of sectarian strife. 25 suspects were arrested immediately after the clash ended.
The Grand Imām of the Azhar Muhammad Sayyid Ṭanṭāwī condemned the incidents of violence that took place in Bimhā, saying that these actions are only committed by irrational people. He also stressed that the Islamic Sharī‘ah respects believers of other religions and allows them to freely practice their beliefs. He also added that all citizens are equal in rights and duties.
The country’s official newspapers did not cover the incident on their front pages as they were content with mentioning it on their accidents pages.
The Ministry of Interior issued a short statement on the incidents, three days after they took place, providing information which differed from what was published in the independent and official media. The statement said that only three homes were burnt down and three people were slightly injured. It also referred to the victims as being members of the Coptic community, a term that carries sectarian connotations.