Sectarian Violence Claims The Lives of 24 in Egypt, 200 Injured
At least 24 died and more than 200 were injured in the deadly clashes that broke out in centre Cairo on Sunday between angry Christians, Muslims and the police, following an attack on a Christian church.
The incident is the worst case of sectarian violence since the uprising in January and February that led to the ouster of the former regime of Hosni Mubarak. The incident lasted through the night prompting police to send 1,000 security forces to defend the state television building. A curfew was launched until 7 a.m.
The clashes spread to nearby Tahrir Square, drawing thousands to the epicenter of the Egyptian revolution on Sunday night, where they battled with rocks and firebombs, with stones and ammunition.
An armored security van entered the crowd at some point, striking six protesters and throwing some others in the air, which sparked the fury of the people who set on fire military vehicles, a bus and private cars.
After midnight, the crowds roamed into the streets attacking cars and buses in which they suspected Christians were traveling. No police or security forces were present in many parts of the city.
Christian Copts, which make 10 percents of the 80-million population of Egypt, blame the supreme council that rules the country since the fall of Hosni Mubarak of not being determined enough to curve the aggression against them that has sparked since the beginning of the year.
Christian Copts are particularly worried that the radical Islamists will emerge as a political force, which would place their existence in danger.
Addressing the nation on television, the prime minister Essam Sharaf said that the spree of sectarian violence threatens to throw the country off its democratic course. He called on the people of Egypt, Muslims and Christians, men and women, to hold to the unity of the country.
The protest of the Christians on Sunday began as a peaceful attempt to sit in front of the state television, at which time they came under attack of what they called “thugs in plainclothes,” who threw stones at them, and fired pellets.
Some of the protestors said that they saw thugs attacking them and a military vehicle jumping over a sidewalk and running over at least 10 people. Television footage showed a group of Christian Copts attacking a soldier, while a priest was trying to protect him.
Some Muslims said that the Christians wanted to topple the field marshall Tantawi, who rules the transitional council. The Muslims challenged the Christian crowd, made of 1,000 people, with chants like “An Islamic state to the death!”
After being dispersed by the security with tear gas the people went to Tahrir Square, where they attempted to have a reconciliation, which lasted no more than a few minutes, then it was resumed.
The riots of the Copts have broken out in the last few weeks in the southern province of Aswan, with Christians demanding the topple of the governor of the province, compensation for the houses burnt by the Muslims, and the reconstruction of a church that came under Muslim attack on the ground that the building was illegal.
In early Monday the media announced that dozens of people were arrested after the clashes, without mentioning whether they were Christian or Muslim. Funeral services were held for those who died on Monday.
The clashes between Copts and Muslims started in Egypt at the beginning of the year, after an attack on a church. It was at that time that the Muslim intellectuals in Egypt came up with the idea of creating a human shield around the cathedral in Alexandria so that the Copts may celebrate the Coptic Christmas.11