Several burned cars belonging to Egyptian Christians remain in the street… (Mohammed Nouhan / Associated…)
CAIRO – At least five people were killed Saturday in clashes between Muslims and Christians, raising new questions over whether President Mohamed Morsi’s Islamist-led government can calm sectarian tensions amid Egypt’s broader political unrest.
Violence between Muslims and Coptic Christians over the last year has been a troubling subplot, especially in the provinces, to the nation’s post-revolutionary political division and faltering economy. There were conflicting accounts over what ignited the latest fighting in Khousous, an impoverished town north of Cairo.
The state news agency MENA reported that Muslims were angry over swastikas drawn by Christian youths on the wall of an Islamic institute. Other media reported the clashes stemmed from a dispute between Christian and Muslim families.
Muslims set a church on fire and both sides began shooting at one another.
Officials said five people were killed. Al Ahram news website quoted a priest as saying at least eight people had died, including four Christians.
"The sectarian riots which happened in Khousous are unacceptable and grave," Saad Katatni, head of the Muslim Brotherhood's political party, posted on his Facebook page. "There are some who want to set Egypt ablaze and create crises."
Coptic Christians make up about 10% of Egypt’s population of 84 million. Despite underlying suspicions and occasional violence, including the 2011 bombing of a church that killed at least 24 worshipers, Copts and Muslims have co-existed for centuries.
But Christians are dismayed over the political rise of Islamists following the uprising that overthrew former president Hosni Mubarak two years ago. Coptic leaders last year boycotted the drafting of a new constitution, claiming the Muslim Brotherhood, which controls the government, and ultraconservative Salafi Muslims were endangering civil and religious rights.
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