Egypt: Coptic Christians attacked by Muslim neighbours in property row

Christians have been forced to flee a village in Egypt after violence sparked over property dispute.

Coptic Christians in an Egyptian village have been under attack by Muslim neighbours since Sunday over a property row which first began in 2012, according to persecution charity International Christian Concern (ICC).

At least two Christians have been hospitalised in critical condition and four homes have been attacked, after police from El Amerya district attempted to execute a court order to return land to its rightful owner.

The court ordered land in El Oula village seized from Hamdy Makanouti to be returned to him from El Houty who stole the land in 2012.

When they attempted to reclaim the land on Sunday, police were attacked and forced to flee, leaving the Christian population of the village vulnerable.

"After the security forces left, a large crowd surrounded [the] church and hurled stones at it. Then they attacked four homes owned by Christians; they attacked a Christian man resulting in the breaking of his spine," said Father Boktor Nashed, priest of the Mar Girgis church in El Oula.

When El Houty stole the land in 2012, Makanouti attempted to regain it through a mediator. El Houty refused to comply and the case was taken to court.

The court found Makanouti the rightful owner of the land, but an attempt to reclaim it in 2014 was prevented by a violent defense by El Houty and his family.

"The El Houty family used the microphones in the local mosque and in nearby villages to call out for the Muslims from everywhere around the village saying that the police have come to take the lands and give it to the Christians," Zarif told ICC.

When the assailants attacked the Christian homes, "our more moderate Muslim neighbours intervened and protected us from them," said Zarif, nephew of Makanouti.

The conflict has caused Christian families to flee their homes out of fear of further violence.

"Many families have left the village fearing for their safety in this volatile situation; there is a strong feeling of terror and fear among the Christian families here," Father Boktor told ICC.

Todd Daniels, Regional Manager for the Middle East at ICC said, "This latest incident of violence highlights once again the vulnerable situation that many Christians in Egypt face. It has now been nearly two years since the courts determined that the land should be returned and still this family faces violence as they attempt to regain their land. Egypt should act to protect the basic rights of all of its citizens. We urge the local security forces to act swiftly to bring security and to ensure that those guilty of these attacks are brought to justice."