TIMELINES: What prompted deadly sectarian clashes in Cairo, Egypt on June 17, 1981?

By Epoch Times Staff
Epoch Times Staff
Epoch Times Staff
June 17, 2011 Updated: September 29, 2015


Friday, June 17, 2011


On June 17, 1981, deadly clashes breakout between Muslims and Coptic Christians in Al-Zawya Al-Hamra District of Cairo, Egypt. Over three days of fighting, 17 people are killed, 112 injured, and 171 public and private buildings are damaged. The riots are the result of historic hostilities between the two groups and more immediately, the burning of multiple Coptic churches in the preceding years, and the 1980 amendments to the Egyptian Constitution. The amendments establish Islam as the state religion and declare Shariah Law as the main source of Egyptian legislation. Coptics comprise 10 percent of the population. In an attempt to take control of the situation, Egypt’s leader Anwar Sadat orders the arrest of approximately 1,500 political and religious figures, including many Islamic ones. In October 1981, Sadat is assassinated by Islamic fundamentalists. His successor is Mohammed Hosni Mubarak, who rules for 30 years until being ousted in February.

Early last month, tensions between Muslims and Coptic Christians reached a boiling point in Cairo, leaving 12 dead and 238 injured over two days of clashes. The violence stemmed from an unsubstantiated report by Egyptian media alleging that Coptic Christians had abducted and tortured a woman who converted to Islam. The report fueled tensions between the two groups, resulting in the burning of St. Mary’s Coptic Church and a rash of deadly violence. Two days later, hundreds of young Christian men ran through central Cairo calling for the removal of a military official. They were met by a crowd of Muslim men and fights broke out. The two groups pelted each other with stones, injuring 42 people. Coptic Christians were initially hopeful that the Arab Spring would yield better protection for their rights after decades of suppression under former President Mubarak’s rule. However, with the increase of religious violence in the country, Coptic Christians have become more fearful in the post-Mubarak, Egypt.