Signs of Hope in Egypt’s Sectarian Violence

A Muslim Egyptian holding a Qur'an and a Coptic Egyptian holding a Cross

In the last few months, the Middle East has undergone tremendous change with revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt leading to the resignation of Presidents Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak. During these revolutions that inspired others across the region in Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, and Syria, different segments of society united with the goal of removing the leaders. In Egypt, especially, Muslims and Christians stood together, even protecting each other while they prayed.

This unity represented the hope that was driving the revolution. However, in the last week, clashes broke out between Muslims and Christians in Egypt leaving at least 12 dead (6 Christians and 6 Muslims), hundreds injured, and a church burned. These new developments further destabilize an already shaky transition.

The violence began on Saturday, May 7th, after rumors circulated that a Christian woman married to a Muslim man was being held against her will in the Virgin Mary Church in Imamba, a region in Cairo. The church was subsequently attacked. More clashes followed during a demonstration where Christians and Muslims were standing together to show unity against the aggression.

Even though the events of the weekend are disturbing and very sad, there are still many reasons for optimism. First, Muslim clerics in Egypt are taking an active role by denouncing the violence. Second, the spirit of the revolution is still present with the demonstrations of unity attended by both Christians and Muslims. No doubt those who demonstrated understand that the violence that broke out does not reflect the core values of either faith. Third, many Egyptians recognize that extremist groups like the Salafis are behind the rise in sectarian violence and that they do not represent the vast majority of the Muslim Egyptian population, who also do not want the Salafis in power. Finally, the government in place has promised to bring the perpretrators of the violence to justice and is now looking into reopening 48 churches that were closed during Mubarak’s rein.

Hopefully, those who want peaceful change like we saw during the revolution will continue to speak out and help bring about a political transition that will lead to real change in Egypt and stop more sectarian violence.

What was your reaction to the sectarian violence in Egypt this past weekend? How can this kind of violence be stopped? Do you think that the violence will hinder the Egyptian people’s move to democracy? Do you think the tension between the two groups stems from religious or political disagreements? Please share your thoughts below.