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From the March 2000 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 47, No. 3)

Egypt

Sectarian Strife

Joel Campagna, World Press Review contributing editor

The worst violence between Egypt’s Muslims and Coptic Christians in decades has accentuated tension between the two communities.

The Cairo opposition Al-Wafd reports that fighting erupted Dec. 31 in the southern village of Al-Kushh after a dispute between a Coptic  merchant and a Muslim customer, killing 20 people (19 of whom were Copts) and leaving 33 injured.

The leftist weekly Al-Ahali cites Coptic Church sources in its report that as many as 25 were killed and 10 were missing.

Relations between Copts, who constitute as much as 10 percent of the population, and Muslims have been marked by occasional violence over the past 30 years.

Egyptian writer Hussein Ahmed Amin, in the Saudi-owned Al-Hayat of London (Jan. 6), says the riot exposed how the government is failing to deal with the problem.

The government and the official press ascribe blame to a few “outlaws” and “foreign forces” bent on stirring sectarian flames. “I would argue that national unity in Egypt is in real danger,” writes Amin. “This danger comes from religious [Islamist] extremism.” He blames Muslims and Copts, saying both communities have failed to address sectarian tension and remain ignorant about one another’s faith and customs.

Egyptian Islamist commentator Fahmi Howeidi, writing in Kuwait’s independent Al-Watan, is critical of the government. Since Al-Kushh had earned a reputation for sectarian problems in the past, it “should have been treated as a powder keg.” Blaming violence on a “hidden foreign hand” is only “escaping from the truth.”

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