CAIRO, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Groups of Egyptian Muslims set fire to
Christian-owned shops in southern Egypt after hearing rumours of a love
affair between a Muslim woman and a Coptic Christian man, security
sources and a witness said on Tuesday.
Eight Muslim men were arrested in the town of Armant, around 600 km
(375 miles) south of Cairo, on suspicion of taking part in arson
attacks on four stores and a mini-van owned by Coptic Christians, the
security sources said.
The rumours began on Saturday and calm was restored by Tuesday, with
security forces deployed in the town as a precaution, one security
official said. Hala Botros, a Christian blogger from the region, said Copts in Armant were still scared to leave their homes.
"The situation has improved slightly but people go out only if they
really have to," Botros, who regularly reports attacks on Christians on
her blog under the name Hala el-Masry, told Reuters by telephone.
Coptic Christians make up to 10 percent of the about 75 million Egyptians, most of whom are Sunni Muslims.
Relations between the two communities are usually peaceful but there
are sporadic outbreaks of violence. In 1999, 22 people were killed in
communal strife in southern Egypt. *
In April, a 45-year old
Muslim man stabbed a Coptic Christian in the Mediterranean city of
Alexandria, sparking three days of sectarian clashes. Egypt ruled in
June the man was mentally ill after a medical evaluation without a
trial. Traditional Islamic law allows Muslim men to
marry Christian women but not Christian men to marry Muslim women.
Romances across the divide are one of the main sources of tension
between Egypt's two main religious communities.
* Coptic church estimate the number of Christians in Egypt to be around 12 million>