Blackened rubble is all that is left of Abskharon Suleiman’s appliance store in the northern Egyptian village of Sharbat.
Suleiman is a Coptic Christian, and his upstairs apartment, as well as his children’s homes and shops, were gutted and looted in an attack last month by young Muslim men.
In Egypt, growing tensions between Muslims and Christians have led to sporadic violence. Many Egyptians blame the interreligious strife on hooligans taking advantage of absent or weak security forces. Others believe it’s because of a deep-seated mistrust between Muslims and the minority Christian community.
The incident in the rural community of Sharbat started as most interreligious clashes in Egypt do — with a rumor of an illicit liaison between members of different religious sects.
In this case, it was about a Coptic Christian man and Muslim woman, each of them married to someone else, explains Muslim merchant Magdy Abu Sheashaa.
He claims the man had suggestive photos of the woman on his phone, though neither he nor anyone else interviewed actually saw the pictures.
The rumor was enough to send a frenzied mob to the alleged offender’s house on Jan. 27. That building was near Suleiman’s property.
Abu Sheashaa says Suleiman’s grown sons fired handguns into the air to try to disperse the crowd. The mob then shouted insults at the Coptic family and demanded they leave the village where they had lived for two decades.
“They threw rocks through the windows and set our building on fire. I was sure we were going to die,” says Um Suleiman, the elderly wife of the merchant.