The Coptic Orthodx Church of Alexandria (Photo: Reuters)
Clashes have broken out between hundreds of locals outside a church in the city of Kom Ombo in Aswan on Thursday, as reports circulated that a 37-year-old Muslim woman had been kidnapped and forced to convert to Christianity.
The family of the woman, who had been missing for three days when her family were told of her presence in Mar Girgis Church, accuse the church of kidnapping her and forcing her to embrace Christianity. Other eyewitness accounts say that the woman converted of her own free will.
Security forces have formed a human shield around the church, while locals from Kom Ombo have blockaded railway tracks and are throwing stones at the building.
At the time of going to press, teargas was being fired by security forces, and there were reports of clashes between Copts who were protecting the church and local Muslims who were throwing rocks.
“We as Copts will stand by the security and the family of the girl to find her and avoid strife,” Father Johannas Rzeiq of the Mar Girgis church told Al-Ahram Arabic news website, prior to the outbreak of the clashes.
Also on Thursday, in the town of Al-Wasta in the central governorate of Beni Suef, members of the Salafist Nour Party and El-Gamaa El-Salafaya (the Salafist Group) gathered in front of the police station to protest the alleged kidnapping of a 20-year-old Muslim woman who they claim was forced to convert to Christianity.
The Salafist protesters demanded the woman be returned to her family within three days.
According to reports, the girl had been missing for almost week. Her family found a number of Christian books in her personal library, which led them to suspect church-involvement in her disappearance.
Following the January 25 revolution, several sectarian incidents occurred in which Salafists besieged churches in cases related to conversion.
In May 2011, clashes erupted in Cairo after a rumour spread among Salafists that a Christian woman who had allegedly converted to Islam was being held hostage at a church in Imbaba in Cairo.
The clashes left at least twelve dead and over 50 injured. Two churches were burnt down.