Egypt Muslims, Christians clash over prophet cartoon

Egypt Muslims, Christians clash over prophet cartoon

Egypt Muslims, Christians clash over prophet cartoon

Security forces and bystanders are seen outside a damaged house following clashes in Asyut, Egypt, on Dec 31. AP photo

Sectarian clashes broke out in the southern Egyptian province of Assiut after a Christian student posted a drawing of the Prophet Mohammed on Facebook, officials said Dec. 31.

The clashes, which spread to three villages, saw several Christian homes burned and left five police officers injured, a security official told Agence France-Presse. On Dec. 29, dozens of Muslims tried to storm the home of the Christian student, Gamal Massoud, after the drawing appeared online. Police were called to the scene, arrested the student and formed a cordon around the house to prevent clashes, Assiut governor Abdelrahim Borei said.

But on Dec. 30, a group of Muslims set fire to a shop owned by the student’s father in a nearby village and another group burned Christian homes in another neighboring village and clashed with its residents. Borei has called for an emergency meeting with political and church officials as well as with recently elected MPs and members of ultra-conservative Salafi Muslim groups to try to defuse tensions.On Dec. 30, Egypt’s military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi said the army would increase security around churches during the New Year and Coptic Christmas period, which falls on Jan. 7.

Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood has also vowed to protect the country’s churches in a bid to prevent deadly attacks on Christian places of worship. Last year, more than 20 people were killed in an apparent suicide bombing as hundreds of worshippers were leaving the Al-Qidissin (The Saints) church in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria after a New Year’s Eve mass. In Jan. 2010, six Copts were shot dead as they emerged from a Coptic Christmas Eve mass. A Muslim security guard was also killed in the shooting.

Panetta calls Tantawi

Apart from the clashes, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta conveyed his “deep concern” to Tantawi over police raids on pro-democracy groups, the Pentagon said, after a major clampdown Dec. 29 drew a torrent of criticism.

In a phone call Dec. 30 to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi that underscored Washington’s dismay over the issue, Panetta also thanked the military chief for his “prompt decision to halt the raids,” press secretary George Little said in a statement. Some of the organizations targeted in Dec. 29’s swoops on 17 offices of local and international NGOs The military leaders assured U.S. ambassador in Cairo Anne Patterson that the raids on U.S. and other pro-democracy groups would stop, and confiscated property, including computers and documents, be returned, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.