Copts will long remember Friday, October 21, as a night of terror, flame, and violence in Alexandria. Late that evening, thousands of rioting Muslims targeted three poorly protected Protestant congregations and an Orthodox church in the Muharram Bey section of Alexandria. Muslims were venting their anger over a video of a Christian play, produced at an Orthodox church. Muslims allege the video defamed Islam.
Days after the violence, I visited Christian congregations all over Alexandria and found everyday believers in a state of anxiety and shock over the attacks. Muslim-Christian violence, they told me, was something that happened in poor areas of Cairo or rural Upper Egypt, not Alexandria.
This fall, the relative calm between Muslims and Copts (as Christians in Egypt are known) changed with the publication of an article in Al-Midan, a sensationalist Arabic-language newspaper widely available in urban areas.
The article described a video CD (not a DVD) of a play produced at St Girgis, a prosperous Coptic Orthodox church in Alexandria, a coastal city of 5 million where little religious violence has occurred.
Headlined "Christian Play Insults Prophet Muhammad," the article detailed how church members produced and videotaped a play titled, "I was blind, but now I see." The newspaper account stimulated deep anger among Muslims. In the days after publication, thousands protested outside Alexandria's churches.
On October 18, the Islamist group, Mujahadeen of Egypt (said to be responsible for the recent Sharm el-Sheikh bombings) incited Muslims via the Internet to act against Christians in connection with the video. The next day, the first violence occurred. A Muslim exited a street car in Alexandria and attempted to assault a group ...