Ayman Labib, an 18-year-old Christian, was beaten to death almost two years ago by Muslim classmates in a murder case that punctuates the protracted sectarian tension between Christians and Muslims in southern Egypt, where many of Egypt’s Christians live. Two boys have been convicted of his death and are now serving three-year prison sentences. But for a forgotten community in Egypt’s hinterlands, there’s a feeling that justice has not been served.
Since the uprising that ousted former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, sporadic but intense sectarian demonstrations across Egypt reflect rising fears in Egypt’s Coptic community (who make up an estimated 5 to 10 percent of Egypt’s total population) that the uprising has empowered a predominantly Muslim Egyptian society that is at best indifferent to the Christian minority’s concerns.
With a new president from the Muslim Brotherhood and a new constitution that critics say offers religious minorities, especially Copts, little to no assurances, existential fear has pervaded villages like the Labib family's.
Christians in Egypt, especially in the rural south, have long complained of systemic discrimination and violence. Among a long list list of grievances, critics say Copts are woefully underrepresented in Egypt’s military, judiciary, diplomatic corps, academia and almost all electoral bodies. Christians face state-imposed restrictions on the right to build and maintain churches, regulations that Muslims don’t face when building mosques.
Most recently, a sectarian dispute outside of Cairo left four Christians and a Muslim dead. Over the next several days, clashes continued in Cairo, culminating in an attack on Egypt’s main Coptic Christian cathedral, which left two dead and 90 wounded.
According to state media, President Mohammed Morsi called the Coptic pope, Tawadros II, telling him, “I consider any aggression against the cathedral an aggression against me personally.”
But few Christians are left reassured.