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Cablegate: Egypt: Sectarian Clashes Near Cairo

VZCZCXYZ0042
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHEGA #1420 1341542
ZNR UUUUU ZZH ZUI RUEWMCF7277 1341542
O 141542Z MAY 07
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0000
INFO ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS CAIRO 001420

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR NEA/ELA AND DRL/IRF(WCOFSKY)
NSC FOR RWATERS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KIRF EG
SUBJECT: EGYPT: SECTARIAN CLASHES NEAR CAIRO

-------
SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) A MAY 11 CLASH BETWEEN MUSLIM AND CHRISTIAN
VILLAGERS SOUTH OF CAIRO OVER A CHURCH CONSTRUCTION
CONTROVERSY -- WHICH NOW APPEARS TO BE CONTAINED BY A PROMPT
SECURITY SERVICE REACTION -- SERVES AS A REMINDER OF THE
UNDERCURRENTS OF SECTARIAN TENSION THAT EXIST IN EGYPT. WITH
MANY HOUSES AND SHOPS DESTROYED, DOZENS ARRESTED, AND SEVERAL
BADLY HURT, IT IS A NEAR-MIRACLE THAT NO ONE WAS KILLED.
LEADERS FROM BOTH THE MUSLIM AND COPTIC COMMUNITIES ARE
NEGOTIATING A SETTLEMENT TO REDUCE TENSIONS. END SUMMARY.

---------------------------
SECTARIAN VIOLENCE IN BEMHA
---------------------------

2. (U) MAY 12, SECTARIAN VIOLENCE BROKE OUT IN BEMHA, A
VILLAGE OF ABOUT 6,000 LOCATED 45 KM. SOUTH OF CAIRO.
INITIAL PRESS REPORTS SAID THAT MUSLIM-CHRISTIAN VIOLENCE WAS
SPARKED BY COPTIC VILLAGERS (ABOUT ONE-SIXTH OF THE
POPULATION) SEEKING TO BUILD A CHURCH NEAR A LOCAL MOSQUE.
ACCORDING TO LOCAL MEDIA, FIGHTING BROKE OUT WHICH RESULTED
IN LOOTING AND BURNING OF CHRISTIAN RESIDENCES AND SHOPS. 59
WERE ARRESTED, 12 WERE INJURED, AND NO ONE WAS KILLED.

-----------------
SPARKED BY RUMORS
-----------------

3. (SBU) ACCORDING TO EMBASSY CONTACTS, THE CHRISTIANS HAD
RECEIVED "ORAL PERMISSION" FROM THE MAYOR OF THE VILLAGE AND
FROM STATE SECURITY TO USE A SMALL APARTMENT AS A PLACE OF
WORSHIP. IN ADDITION, COPTIC CHURCH OFFICIALS HAD SUBMITTED
AN APPLICATION TO BUILD A NEW CHURCH THREE MONTHS AGO, BUT
HAD NOT YET RECEIVED PERMISSION TO PROCEED. APPARENTLY, THE
WEEKEND CLASHES WERE SPARKED BY A RUMOR THAT THE CHRISTIANS
WERE GOING TO BUILD THE CHURCH WITHOUT A LICENSE. MUSLIM
VILLAGERS, LED BY A LOCAL IMAM, ALLEGEDLY DISTRIBUTED
PAMPHLETS COMPLAINING ABOUT THIS, AND LABELING COPTS AS
"ATHEISTS." AFTER FRIDAY PRAYERS, A GROUP OF ABOUT 300
MUSLIMS CLASHED WITH A GROUP OF ABOUT 200 CHRISTIANS, BOTH
GROUPS ARMED WITH STICKS AND BRICKS. BY THE END OF THE DAY,
36 CHRISTIAN-OWNED HOMES AND SHOPS WERE DAMAGED, BURNED, AND
LOOTED, WHILE 12 CHRISTIANS WERE INJURED, ONE OF THEM
SERIOUSLY. HUNDREDS OF SECURITY PERSONNEL SEALED THE VILLAGE
AND ARRESTED 35 MUSLIMS.

---------------------------
DENOUNCED BY THE GRAND IMAM
---------------------------

4. (U) A STATEMENT ISSUED BY THE MINISTRY OF INTERIOR ON MAY
11 STATED THAT 500 MUSLIM GATHERED IN RESPONSE TO THE RUMOR
THAT CHRISTIANS WERE PLANNING TO BUILD A CHURCH WITHOUT A
LICENSE, AND THREE CHRISTIANS WERE INJURED. SUSPECTS HAD
BEEN ARRESTED, AND AN INVESTIGATION, THE STATEMENT SAID, IS
ONGOING. MEANWHILE, GRAND IMAM TANTAWI CONDEMNED THE
INCIDENT AND SAID THOSE RESPONSIBLE FOR IT WERE "INSANE."

------------
NDP MEDIATES
------------

5. (SBU) EMBASSY CONTACTS SAY THAT LOCAL MUSLIM AND CHRISTIAN
LEADERS MET TOGETHER AFTER THE INCIDENT UNDER THE MEDIATION
OF A SENIOR NDP OFFICIAL FROM THE AREA TO DISCUSS THE WAY
FORWARD. ACCORDING TO THIS SOURCE, THE CHRISTIANS HAVE
DEMANDED COMPENSATION FOR DESTROYED AND DAMAGED PROPERTY, THE
ARREST AND PROSECUTION OF THE PERPETRATORS, AND PERMISSION TO
BUILD A CHURCH. MUSLIM LEADERS REPORTEDLY COUNTERED WITH AN
OFFER TO PAY COMPENSATION IF THE CHRISTIANS WILL DROP CHARGES
AGAINST THE ALLEGED RINGLEADERS.
RICCIARDONE

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