The angry, aggressive crowd formed within minutes of my arrival. Dozens of Muslim men, all in ankle-length galabiyas, suddenly came together in the middle of the dusty, dirt path leading to the Church of the Two Martyrs in this poor, mixed Christian-and-Muslim village some 210 kilometers south of Cairo. They were determined to block access to what has become a sectarian sore, a church overrun by Muslim locals and desecrated, an act that has prompted desperate national calls to maintain the inter-religious unity forged in Tahrir Square during the uprising that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak.

“You can’t see it!” a group of men screamed. Several women in full face veils, or niqabs, scurried away, carrying plastic bags of produce. An armored personnel carrier with several soldiers in red berets watched the fracas from further up the road. Closer by, at least a dozen soldiers in flak jackets and helmets marched down an adjacent side street, barring anyone from following them.

“You are not allowed to pass,” some of the men in galabiyas yelled at me. “Leave! Leave now!”

“Are you Christian?” another asked.

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