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Christians Injured and Lose Homes as 5000 Muslims Protest

21 November 2004

Muslims have gone on an anti-Christian rampage, burning and looting homes in Al-Ayat, 30 miles to the south of Cairo. Their complaint? Local Christians want to convert a small building they own into a church.

Just after 8.00pm on 7 November Muslims converged on the Christian quarter of Girza, a village near Al-Ayat, in Giza Governorate. They burned down four homes belonging to Christian families, looting and destroying six more. They also burnt down eight shops and torched the fields of eight further families. Eleven Christians were injured including eighteen month old Christina Yousri; five were hospitalised.

Shortly after the end of evening prayers there was a power cut which initially affected only the Christian area, but then spread to the whole village. It was then that the mob of more than 5000 descended. They were armed with sticks and containers full of either petrol or paraffin. As well as general wholesale destruction of Christian property they also targeted the building at the heart of this matter. It was already being used as a place of worship; nevertheless they destroyed it so completely that reportedly even the foundations will have to be rebuilt. The local Christian community wanted to expand its facilities and use this building to do so. It is not known whether they had already received the requisite official permission, but what is startling is the way the Muslim community responded en masse to the mere possibility of its expansion.

In addition to standard building permission, Egyptian law requires presidential approval to build a new church. This comes from a nineteenth century Ottoman regulation, and is known as the Hamayouni Decree. It is a slow bureaucratic process, which can take many years, and does not always result in success. To repair, renovate or expand a church permission must be sought from local governors. Whilst this is less bureaucratic local governors are more prone to prejudice against Christians.

The Police arrived on the scene after several hours when most of the damage had been done. This is despite being called within 15 minutes of the violence starting and having their station a mere 30 minute walk away. Christians then attempted to lodge their complaints, but not only were they met with indifference typical of the police towards their community, but the police actually refused to even record some of their grievances.