More than 2,000 Christian Copts confront police after Christmas Eve drive-by killings.
|Clashes erupted outside the Giza governor’s office after construction of a church was halted [AFP]|
A demonstrator has been killed and several others injured as hundreds of Orthodox Coptic Christian protesters clashed with Egyptian police after permission for the building of a new church was refused.
Al Jazeera has learned that the Christian protester was killed after being shot by the security forces.
The riots erupted on Wednesday outside a municipal building in the Cairo suburb of Giza, after authorities halted construction of the church, claiming the local Christian community had violated a building permit.
Protersters threw stone and petrol bombs as scores of police surrounded the area and fired tear gas to break up the demonstration. A security source said at least 93 protesters were detained after a scuffle with police.
Around 20 police were injured in the clashes, including Giza’s deputy security chief, as well as around 15 demonstrators.
Some of the protesters were led away with blood on their faces, after police hurled rocks at them from a bridge, a security official told the AFP news agency.
“Look, this is our government throwing rocks at us. All this because of a church,” Samuel Ibrahim, on of the Coptic protesters, told the Reuters news agency.
Christians make up about 10 per cent of Egypt’s 79 million population and often complain about discrimination in the Muslim-majority country.
Church permits are often a source of tension, as Christians say they are not given the same freedom to build places of worship as Muslims.
Non-Muslims are required to obtain a presidential decree to construct new religious buildings and must satisfy numerous conditions before permission is granted.
“People here feel very discriminated against. We can’t build the church – why are they stopping us?” Samih Rashid, one of the Copts at the protest, said.
“Every street has a mosque, every church has a mosque next to it.”
The protestors had blocked the road near the governor’s office before the violence began.
“With our blood and with our souls, we will sacrifice our lives for you, oh cross,” the crowd chanted.
Sayyed Abdel-Aziz, the governor of Giza, said the Christians appeared to have used a permit for a social centre to start work on the church.
“When we noticed indications that it was turning into a church, we told the church authorities to halt construction because a church would require a different licence,” he told the state news agency.
“I am completely willing to help Christian leaders get the permit for a church, but they have to stop turning it into a church without authorisation.”
The Copts said they did have permission and were continuing to work without machinery, which was being blocked from entering the site, the reports said.
Christian and Muslim religious leaders emphasise sectarian harmony, but communal tensions can erupt into criminality and violence, usually sparked by land disputes or cross-faith relationships.