By AFP and Daily News Egypt’s Essam Fadl
CAIRO: Over 1,000 Copts and Muslims protested for the second day in front the television building against the burning of a church in Helwan, calling on the armed forces to intervene to protect Copts, rebuild the church and prosecute the perpetrators.
Two men were killed during clashes in Egypt between Muslims and Christians, which also saw Muslims set fire to a church in the village of Sol, south of Cairo, a security official said on Saturday.
“Two people were killed, and the Shahedain church set on fire in clashes between two families,” the official told the MENA news agency.
The violence was triggered by a feud between the families, which disapproved of a romantic relationship between a Christian man and a Muslim woman in the province of Helwan.
It culminated in fighting on Friday in which both of the couples’ fathers were killed, another security official said.
After the funeral for the woman’s father on Saturday, a group of Muslims headed to the village church and set it on fire.
Protesters held up banners listing several sectarian incidents that took place over the past years in Egypt, chanting slogans for national unity and calls for prosecuting those responsible.
The village’s Muslim and Coptic elders, along with some of the village’s public figures, formed a council and on Saturday reconciled the Muslims and Copts who agreed to cooperate to rebuild the church.
The army, which has been maintaining security in Egypt since police disappeared during anti-regime protests last month, managed to put the fire out and restore calm to the area, the official said.
Romantic relationships between Muslim and Christians are taboo in Egypt, and marriage between a Christian man and a Muslim woman is illegal unless the man converts to Islam.
Religiously driven violence breaks out sporadically in the Arab world’s most populous country.
Copts, who make up 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million people, have been targets of sectarian attacks and complain of discrimination, such as the requirement for permission to build a new church.
Observers say Egypt’s deteriorating political and economic situation has pushed both Muslims and Christians further towards extremism, sparking knee-jerk reactions within both communities.
According to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, in the two years to January 2010, there were at least 53 cases of sectarian violence or tensions that have taken place in 17 of Egypt’s 29 governorates.
Last month, an Egyptian court ratified the death sentence against a man convicted of killing six Christians outside a church.
The State Security emergency court had referred Mohammed Ahmad Hussein to the country’s top government cleric last month, a legal formality before the court can announce a death sentence.
Hussein is to be hanged for the murder of six Copts and a Muslim policemen in the southern town of Nagaa Hammadi after the Coptic Christmas Eve Mass in January 2010.
Before an Alexandria church bombing early this year killed 21 people, the Nagaa Hammadi attack had been the deadliest of its kind since 2000 when 20 Copts were killed in sectarian clashes.