Egyptian Military Provoking Muslim/Christian Civil Strife
Washington, D.C. (October 10, 2011) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that at least seventeen Coptic Christians were killed during protests in Cairo yesterday. The latest surge of violence, prompted by the military, reinforced Coptic fears of becoming increasingly marginalized by Egypt’s acting government ruled by the military council.
Sunday’s protests were a reaction to the torching of Mar Gerges Church and the burning and looting of Christian-owned homes and businesses by a Muslim mob in Aswan, Upper Egypt on September 30. Thousands of Coptic Christians and Muslim sympathizers held demonstrations in Cairo to demand equality, the protection of Christian property, and restraint on military rule. Marching from Shubra to the state television building in Maspero, protestors were met by the military and riot police who opened fire with live ammunition.
“The army and police were waiting for us about 200 meters away from the Maspero TV building,” said Ihab Aziz, an activist who helped organize the protest. “They started firing at us before two army armored vehicles came at great speed and drove into the crowds, going backwards and forwards, mowing people under their wheels.”
“My friend was killed tonight. He was run over,” Wagih Yacoub, a Coptic activist who himself was shot with rubber bullets, told ICC between deep breaths of exhaustion and pain. “I was just with him a few hours ago. We were just talking. Then all of a sudden it happened and I went to the morgue and I just saw him lying there. It could have been me or anyone for that matter. It will be me sooner or later if it carries on like this.”
Some Egyptians view the military’s actions as an effort to sever the Christian minority from the rest of Egyptian society. Nada el-Shazly, a Muslim, said that state television urged “honest Egyptians” to protect the military from Christian protesters, even though she knew many Muslims who had joined the Christian demonstration.
“Muslims get what is happening,” el-Shazly told The New York Times. “[The military was] trying to start a civil war.”
Radical Islamists, on the other hand, marched alongside security forces as they cleared the streets at 10:00 pm, The New York Times reported. “The people want to bring down the Christians,” hundreds of armed men shouted. “Islamic, Islamic,” they continued chanting into the evening.
“The government and military are killing Christians. It’s that simple,” Yacoub said. “It was a peaceful march, so why did they shoot real bullets on a peaceful people? We were going there just for two or three hours then we were going to leave. We want to worship in peace, that’s all we want.”
Dr. Sheriff Doss, the head of Egypt’s Coptic Association, said that 17 protestors were killed in the violence, while other groups estimate the number to be far greater. State-run television announced that three soldiers were also among those killed. Bodies of victims are still being identified and counted.
Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “Sunday’s attack on Christian protestors was unprecedented in that it was initiated and encouraged by the very military that was praised for protecting the Egyptian people when President Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power earlier this year.
Christian dreams of freedom in post-revolution Egypt are being dashed by the political rise of the Islamists and the endorsement of discriminatory laws and outright violence committed by the military council. The Mar Gerges church burning, which initiated the protests, was the third church in Egypt to be destroyed by radical mobs in the past seven months. Additionally, the seventeen or more Christians killed yesterday raises the number to more than seventy this year. We urge those within Egypt’s interim government who are concerned about the equality and freedom of all Egyptians to defend the country’s Coptic minority and take immediate and firm action against those who authorized the murder of protestors.”