Five Egyptian Coptic Christians were injured on Sunday in clashes with Muslims at a church in a village south of Cairo, says security source.
The violence took place when Muslim villagers attempted to block access to the church as the Coptic faithful arrived from throughout the area to attend Sunday mass. The official Mena news agency reported Calm was restored after police had intervened. Such sectarian clashes are quite frequent between the Copts, who has about 16 million members worldwide, and Copts make up 10% of Egypt’s population of 80 million, particularly in rural areas. The latest violence came on the eve of a vote among Egypt’s Coptic Christians for a new spiritual leader on Monday after Pope Shenuda III died in March, leaving behind a community anxious about its status under an Islamist led government.
Five candidates are contesting to become the 118th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of all Africa on the Holy See of St Mark the Apostle, two bishops and three monks. A 2 500 member council made up of senior clergy, current and former Coptic public officials, MPs, local councilors and journalists will cast ballots to choose their preferred new pope. The council will pick three, writing their names on separate pieces of paper that will be placed in a box on the altar of St Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo. A blindfolded child will be asked to draw out one of the names on 4 November, thereby picking the new Pope. The individual chosen will become the new Coptic Pope who will be enthroned in a ceremony on 18 November.
Egyptian Christians have regularly complained of discrimination and marginalisation, even under the secular regime of President Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled last year. The rise of Islamists and the election of the country’s first Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, have sparked fears of further persecution at home despite Mors’s repeated promises to be a president “for all Egyptians”.