TIMELINE: Court cases related to sectarian violence in Egypt

An Egyptian court on Sunday sentenced the first suspect charged with killing six Christians and a Muslim guard during Coptic Christmas celebrations in January 2010 at a church in the city of Naga Hammadi. Suspense prevailed among observers ahead of the ruling, which was considered to be a test of the Egyptian judiciary's integrity in dealing with cases involving sectarian conflict. Coptic activists accuse the judiciary of bias towards Muslims.

Gamal Assad, a Coptic intellectual, said Muslims who kill Copts in Egypt are declared innocent, as in the village of Kasheh in 2001. Egyptian Copts have long complained that officials hesitate to try perpetrators of sectarian violence. 

Human rights activists also blame the state’s religious and security apparatus for failing to protect Christians. Under the pretext of protection, sometimes police resort to forcibly relocating Christian families away from Muslim-dominated villages during sectarian strife instances of sectarian strife.

Activists also complain that extrajudicial “reconciliation sessions”–usually brokered by the ruling National Democratic Party, municipal authorities and tribal entities to resolve sectarian clashes–remain “unjust.” In such sessions security officers tend to force the parties involved to reconcile, threatening both sides with punishment–such as arrest and deportation–if they fail to comply. Human rights advocates believe that such practices serve to erode the notion of equality and justice established by the formal legal system.

The following is a review of the most famous Egyptian court rulings in sectarian strife cases where the lives of both Muslims and Christians were taken.

February 2001: 92 suspects were acquitted after the Kasheh village clashes which took place in the Sohag Governorate in 2000. Twenty Christians and one Muslim died in violence that erupted following a dispute between a Christian vendor and Muslim customer. Others became involved, thereby leading to a high number of victims. Only four of 96 detainees were convicted. The heaviest sentence was ten years for manslaughter and the possession of a gun without a license. The other three detainees were sentenced to 1-2 years in prison.

November 2009: Two Christian men received life sentences for murdering a Muslim man who married their relative against the family’s will.

2 January 2010: An appeals court in Upper Egypt released 14 Muslims detained on charges of “rioting and disturbing public order” after attacks on Christian-owned shops on 21 November 2009 in the village of Farshout in Qena.

February 2010: Four Muslims were acquitted of murdering a Christian in Assiut. Eyewitnesses and security reports said the Christian man's son had had an affair with the Muslims' relative, which fueled sectarian clashes in Upper Egypt. The court claimed there was insufficient evidence against the four.

February 2010: Five Muslims were sentenced to 25 years in prison for killing two Christians in Upper Egypt on the eve of the Ascension feast. In Hegaza village in Qena, 600km south of Cairo, armed men had opened fire on Christians leaving church after mass in April 2009.

10 November 2010: A court in the Nile delta city of Mansoura sentenced two Muslim youths to 15 years for stabbing a 60-year-old Christian man to death in March 2009, and attempting to immolate his son.

11 November 2010: A court in Mansoura sentenced five members of a Christian family to 15 years for murdering a 19-year-old Muslim in May 2009.

Meanwhile, a court is still reviewing the case of a young Christian man who allegedly raped a Muslim girl in the village of Farshout in Upper Egypt in November 2009. The Egyptian government cited this incident as the reason behind the sectarian violence that followed in Upper Egypt.

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