Egypt’s Christians mourned their dead and berated the army on Monday after at
least 25 people were killed in Cairo the day before when troops crushed a
protest over an attack on a church.
Armored personnel carriers sped into
the crowd late on Sunday to break up the demonstrators near the state television
building. Videos posted on the Internet showed mangled bodies, and activists
said corpses had been crushed by the vehicles. Sunday was one of the bloodiest
days since the February uprising that toppled president Hosni
Analysis: Egypt’s floundering revolution
The head of Al-Azhar University called on Egypt’s Muslims and
Christians to forge a united front in condemning Sunday’s bloodshed. State
newspaper Al-Ahram reported that Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb, who pens
frequent op-eds in Egypt’s press for interfaith reconciliation, called together
a group of clergymen from both faiths to try to raise ideas for combating the
spiraling violence. Pope Shenouda III, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, was
reportedly among the invitees.
Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper quoted Islamist
presidential hopefuls Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and Hazem Abu Ismail as
condemning the clashes as well.
Tension between Muslims and minority
Coptic Christians has simmered for years but has worsened since the anti-
Mubarak revolt, which has allowed the emergence of Salafist and other strict
Islamist groups that the former president had repressed.
much of the anger from Sunday’s violence was focused on the army, which has also
come under fire from across the political spectrum for failing to give a clear
timetable for handing power to civilians.
“Why didn’t they do this with
the Salafists or the Muslim Brotherhood when they organize protests? This is not
my country any more,” said Alfred Younan, a Copt speaking near Cairo’s Coptic
Christian hospital, where many of the dead were taken.
The violence casts
a shadow over Egypt’s first parliamentary poll since Mubarak fell. Voting starts
on November 28.
Prime Minister Essam Sharaf blamed internal and external
“conspiracies” for the violence.
“Instead of advancing to build a modern
state of democratic principles, we are back searching for security and
stability, worrying that there are hidden hands, both domestic and foreign,
seeking to obstruct the will of Egyptians in establishing a democracy,” he said
on state television. We will not surrender to these malicious conspiracies and
we will not accept reverting back.”
Christians, who make up 10 percent of
Egypt’s roughly 80 million people, took to the streets after blaming Muslim
radicals for partially demolishing a church in Aswan province last
They also demanded the sacking of the province’s governor for
failing to protect the building.
The Health Ministry said 24 people were
killed and 272 people wounded, including 253 who were taken to
State media later put the toll at 25 dead, the bulk of them
Justice Minister Mohamed Abdel Aziz el-Guindy said the
investigation and any trials would be handled by military courts. Al-Ahram said
15 people were being investigated and dozens detained.
Streets near the
state television building had been largely cleared of debris on Sunday, but
smashed and burned vehicles lined streets in the area near the Coptic hospital,
which was also the scene of violence overnight.
“The army was very
violent in dealing with all these demonstrations... and they are being very
violent as they know they will not be held accountable and will use such
protests to increase repression in Egypt,” said Gamal Eid of the Arab Network
For Human Rights Information. “That is evidence that the military has to leave
power as soon as possible.”
The clashes add to the growing frustration of
pro-democracy activists with the generals who took over from Mubarak. Many
Egyptians suspect the army wants to wield power from behind the scenes even as
it hands day-to-day government activities to civilians, charges the ruling army
“We note Prime Minister Sharaf’s call for an
investigation, and appeal to all parties to remain calm,” the US embassy said in
a statement, expressing condolences to the families.
ministers expressed alarm and said the authorities had a duty to protect
“We really do expect that Egypt will move towards
its elections with the desire to see all people as part of those elections and
to protect the people whoever they are, wherever they come from and whatever
belief and faith they have,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said ahead
of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.
candidate Amr Moussa said he would join political groups and others at an
emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the violence.
He told Reuters it
was important that the incident did not derail the election timetable.
hope that this will not happen. I hope we are going to do as agreed, that there
will be an election and we will move forward. We don’t want a delay in the
process,” he said.
The army has yet to announce a date for a presidential
election. A staggered parliamentary vote that lasts until March followed by the
drawing up of a new constitution could push the vote back to the end of 2012 or
early 2013, leaving presidential powers in the hands of the military council
Moussa and other presidential hopefuls have demanded a
swifter election on April 1.
Protests erupted elsewhere in Egypt
including its second biggest city, Alexandria. Copts say promises by the new
rulers to address their concerns and protect them have been ignored.
new emerging faction of Islamists and Salafists has created havoc since the January revolution...
The problem is the severe reluctance of
the cabinet and the authorities to enforce the rule of law and protect the
Copts,” said Youssef Sidhom, editor in chief of a Orthodox Coptic newspaper,
Christians complain of discrimination, citing rules that they
say make it easier to build a mosque than a church. Tensions have often flared
up in the past over interfaith romantic relationships, church building and other
The cabinet said a fact-finding committee would probe the
violence in Cairo and Aswan and laws would be changed to punish religious and
other discrimination with prison terms and fines.
It said a committee
would speed up the drafting of a new unified law regulating places of worship.
Christians have complained that mosques are far easier to build than
But since Mubarak’s removal on February 11, incidents have spun
into violence more swiftly.
Christians say no one has been tried yet for
the burning of a church in Helwan, south of Cairo, in March, after which 13
people were killed, or for violence in the Cairo suburb of Imbaba on May 7 that
cost 15 lives.