Sectarian strife reportedly contained in Egypt’s Sharqiya

Calm has reportedly returned to the Minya Qamh district in the Egypt governorate of Sharqiya in the Nile Delta region after the 16-year-old missing girl was found on Tuesday and rejoined her mother and a sectarian crisis was contained.

The issue began when Rania Khalil, 16, a recent convert to Islam, went missing and the residents of the village believed that the Coptic Church was hiding her.

Thousands of area residents gathered on Monday outside the Virgin Mary Coptic Church and threatened to torch it if the girl was not released.

The Coptic group Maspero Youth Union published a voice recording with an eyewitness at the church under siege, saying that people surrounding the church attempted to climb the wall and threw stones inside the church. According to one witness in the area, angry residents set fire to two vehicles nearby and police shut off all power to the village briefly in an attempt to calm the situation.

The witness also reported that megaphones out of mosques were attempting to calm the crowd, asking them to wait until nightfall. The witness reported about 20 armored central security forces vehicles present about a kilometer from the church, though they refused to intervene.

Kahlil converted to Islam from Christianity 6 months ago following her father, who converted three years earlier and moved in with him.

She only recently became engaged when she went missing a few days earlier to the incident in the village.

Police are yet to offer an explanation for why the girl was missing, but said she was found outside the church.

Conversion and obscure information has fueled sectarian violence in the past few years in Egypt where Coptic Christians, forming roughly 10 to 15 percent of the population, feel oppressed.

The Imbaba church violence last Spring left at least 12 dead after a similar story played out. A woman who converted to Islam was reportedly taking refuge in a church in the Cairo neighborhood of Imbaba, when thousands flooded the streets surrounding the Church demanding her release.

A number of extremists tried to set fire to the church and live ammunition was used.

Usually, when a person decides to convert from Christianity to Islam, the church tries to talk with them about the reasons why and if they are determined, they go. But in the most recent case, the eyewitness, who has ties inside the church said the church didn’t even try to talk the young girl out, fearing public anger.

An investigation has started to look into the circumstances of the issue, according to a security source.

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