ASSIUT, Upper Egypt - A Facebook post by a Coptic student insulting Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has left Assiut inflamed as sectarian clashes spread to three villages in Upper Egypt, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported on Saturday, December 31.
The situation is now calm in the three villages, Assiut governor Abdelrahim Borei told state television.
We have deployed police in the areas in order to maintain order.
The problem started last Thursday after Christian student, Masoud Abdullah, reportedly posted blasphemous pictures insulting the Prophet Muhammad on his Facebook account.
Angered by the anti-prophet cartoons, dozens of Muslims tried to storm the home of the Christian student after the drawing appeared online.
Surrounding the student's home, angry Muslims locked horns with Christians in the villages of Bahig and El-Adr, with both sides stoning each other, resulting in injuring five soldiers from the security forces.
As some Bahig residents rallied in front of Abdullah's school in the village, feelings in El-Adr village were more heated.
Hundreds embarked on a march heading to the student's house with the intention of torching it into flames.
Police were called to the scene, arrested the student and formed a cordon around the house to prevent clashes, Assiut governor said.
Yet, the police cordon failed to soothe the feelings of angry Muslims.
On Friday, a group of Muslims set fire to a shop owned by the student's father in a nearby El-Salam village while another group burned three homes owned by Copts.
Working to diffuse tensions, Assiut governor called for an emergency meeting with political and church officials as well as with recently elected MPs.
Assiut's head of security, General Mohamed Ibrahim, as well as Bayoumi Ismaili, the newly-elected parliamentarian from Al-Nour Party, also tried to calm tensions in El-Adr Village.
Mahmoud Ashmawi, another Al-Nour parliamentarian, said his party had formed popular committees to protect the Coptic homes in Assiut.
The clashes came hours ahead of New Year.
On Friday, Egypt's military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi said the army would increase security around churches during the New Year and Coptic Christmas period, which falls on January 7.
Egypt's powerful Muslim Brotherhood has also vowed to protect the country's churches in a bid to prevent deadly attacks on Christian places of worship.
A high-profile delegation from the Brotherhood, led by deputy leader Mahmoud Ezzat, will also offer greetings to Pope Shenouda III on Christmas.