CAIRO: Groups of Egyptian Muslims set fire to Christian-owned shops in southern Egypt after hearing rumors of a love affair between a Muslim woman and a Coptic Christian man, security sources and a witness said on Tuesday. Eight Muslim men were arrested in the town of Armant, around 600 km south of Cairo, on suspicion of taking part in arson attacks on four stores and a mini-van owned by Coptic Christians, the security sources said.
The rumors began on Saturday and calm was restored by Tuesday, with security forces deployed in the town as a precaution, one security official said. Traditional Islamic law allows Muslim men to marry Christian women but not Christian men to marry Muslim women. Romances across the divide are one of the main sources of tension between Egypt s two main religious communities. Hala Botros, a Christian blogger from the region, said Copts in Armant were still scared to leave their homes. The situation has improved slightly but people go out only if they really have to, Botros, who regularly reports attacks on Christians on her blog under the name Hala El-Masry, told Reuters by telephone. Coptic Christians make up to 10 percent of Egypt’s mostly Sunni Muslim population. Relations between the two communities are usually peaceful but there are sporadic outbreaks of violence. In 1999, 22 people were killed in communal strife in southern Egypt. In April 2006, a 45-year-old Muslim man stabbed a Coptic Christian in Alexandria, sparking three days of sectarian clashes. Egypt ruled in June the man was mentally ill after a medical evaluation without a trial.