Muslim Girl’s Disappearance in Egypt Sparks Religious Strife

Thousands of Muslims protested in a southern Egyptian town after the family of a young woman said she may have run off with a Christian, rekindling religious tensions in an already polarized nation.

The demonstration, involving about 2,000 people in the town of al-Wasta in the province of Bani Sweif, erupted amid reports the young woman had converted to Christianity and fled to Turkey with a young man, the state-run Ahram Gate reported. The college student’s family accused the church of facilitating her disappearance, the news website said.

The incident late yesterday threatened to reignite tensions in Egypt as Islamist President Mohamed Mursi struggles to restore order and revive the economy. Muslims-Christian tensions have been rife, particularly in the southern part of the country which has traditionally been an Islamist stronghold.

Security forces cordoned off the area around the local church and police station, while shop owners shuttered their stores fearing clashes.

The protest comes at a time when some Islamists have begun setting up community groups to undertake policing responsibilities in the south, to compensate for what they say is the lack of police presence. Police disappeared from the streets in the initial days of the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak and have yet to fully resume their duties.