Egyptian Muslims burn Christian homes over rumors of church construction on property

Around 300 Muslims burned four houses belonging to Coptic Christians in Samalout, Minya, Upper Egypt on June 30 after rumors spread that a church was being built on a property in the village.

Egyptian Christians hold placards during a protest against the killing of Egyptian Coptic Christians by militants of the Islamic State in Libya, in Cairo February 16, 2015. | Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

The property belonged to Ashraf Khalaaf and his brother. Before his house was burned, local police had asked Khalaaf to sign a document stating that the construction being done on his property was not for a church, local newspaper Egypt Today reported, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

Khalaaf signed the document, but it was not enough to pacify the angered Muslims, who attacked his house and burned it along with the houses of other Coptic Christians in the village.

The governor of Minya called for a reconciliation meeting between the parties involved. However, in response to the governor, the Bishopric of Samalout said that the rule of law should be observed before the meeting could be held.

In relation to the incident, the bishopric also urged the government to approve the construction of a church on land owned by the parish, as the nearest church is eight kilometers away from the village. An application for the church building was filed 10 years ago but its approval remains pending until today.

In another incident that also happened last month, a Muslim mob burned houses in a Coptic community in reaction to rumors that a property in the area was being built as a house of worship for Christians.

Naeem Aziz, who was constructing a house for his son, was accused of building a church. Muslim villagers attacked him and his brother, and they burned his house and the houses of other Coptic residents in the neighborhood, Christian Solidarity Worldwide said in another report.

Egyptian authorities impose strict religious regulations that prevent Christians from building houses of worship. However, no such restriction is imposed for building mosques.

"It is astonishing that Coptic citizens' exercise of their constitutional, legal right to worship and build, renovate and reconstruct houses of worship is still hostage to the approval of a majority of the area's residents," Ishak Ibrahim, head of the Freedom of Religion and Belief Program, commented regarding the discrepancy in regulations. 

The minority Coptic Christians in Egypt have suffered from increasing persecution from their Muslim neighbors in recent years. Muslims who have converted to Christianity have also become the subject of intense persecution, according to Open Doors.