- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 22, 2005

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt — Thousands of police manned barricades around Christian churches in Egypt’s second largest city yesterday, a day after Muslim rioters attacked churches and shops, leaving four persons dead in the country’s worst religious violence in five years.

Egypt’s top Muslim and Christian leaders appealed for calm as tensions simmered in Alexandria, where some 5,000 Muslim rioters rampaged through two predominantly Christian neighborhoods.

Clashes with rubber bullet-firing police killed two rioters and two policemen, police and hospital officials said yesterday. At least 90 persons were injured.

The violence followed a week of protests over the distribution of a DVD of a play deemed offensive to Muslims. St. George’s Coptic Church, where the play was performed two years ago, was one of the seven churches attacked Friday.

The play, entitled “I Was Blind But Now I Can See,” tells the story of a Christian who converts to Islam and becomes disillusioned.

Islamic leaders accused Copts of releasing the DVDs and demanded an apology.

But political leaders and security officials said Islamic extremists distributed the DVDs in an effort to tarnish a Coptic Christian candidate running in next month’s parliamentary elections for Alexandria’s impoverished Ghorbal constituency.

Maher Khalah, one of two Copts running on the ruling National Democratic Party ticket in this mainly Sunni Muslim country, announced yesterday that he was withdrawing from the race to prevent any recurrence of the violence.

“This violence is not about the DVD, it is all about the elections,” Mr. Khalah told the Associated Press.

Coptic Christians, who account for about 6 percent of Egypt’s population of 77 million, complain of discrimination but generally live in harmony with the Muslim majority.

Violence flares occasionally, particularly in small southern communities.

Friday’s violence was the bloodiest since January 2000, when an argument between a Coptic shopkeeper and a Muslim customer swelled into gunfights and other street battles that killed 23 persons, mostly Christians, in el-Kusheh, a town south of Cairo.

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