Egypt’s government announced measures to curb religious violence on Sunday after 12 people died in clashes in a Cairo suburb sparked by rumors that Christians had abducted a woman who converted to Islam. The fighting on Saturday was Egypt’s worst interfaith strife since 13 people died on March 9 after a church was burned, and it threw down a new challenge for generals ruling the country since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in February.
Prime Minister Essam Sharaf canceled a tour of Gulf Arab states to chair a cabinet meeting where the government decided to deploy more security near religious sites and toughen laws criminalising attacks on places of worship.
“Gatherings around places of worship will be banned to protect their sanctity and ensure the security of residents and prevent sectarian strife,” Justice Minister Mohamed el-Guindy said in a statement read on state television. The army said that 190 people would be tried in military courts over Saturday’s violence.
Tension was high and the army cordoned off streets near the Saint Mina church, where about 500 conservative Salafist Muslims massed on Saturday to call on Christians to hand over the woman.