Clashes Beween Christians and Muslims Orgy of Violence Plunges Egypt into New Chaos

It was meant to be a peaceful protest, but ended in a bloodbath. At least 24 people were killed in Cairo on Sunday night during a demonstration by Coptic Christians. One army vehicle drove into the crowd and ran over protestors. Eight months after the revolution, Egypt has been shaken by the new violence.

REUTERS

By Viktoria Kleber in Cairo


Cairo has had a horrific night with 24 people killed and at least 174 injured in clashes between Muslims and Coptic Christians that have clouded hopes the nation will return to peace and liberty after Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February.

It started out as a peaceful demonstration. Some 10,000 Christians and Muslims had taken to the streets together to protest against recent violence against Christians in Egypt. They had planned to congregate at the state television building north of Tahrir Square but the marchers were attacked before they reached it.

"Stones were thrown at us and there were shots," said Alfred Raouf, a Coptic Christian who was among the demonstrators. "We were shocked." That was only the beginning. The situation escalated in front of the television building. It is unclear who triggered the clashes. "When we arrived, the military immediately started attacking us with tear gas and truncheons," said Beshoy Fayez, a demonstrator.

Other eyewitnesses reported that the crowd threw stones at the security forces, and that a policeman was surrounded and beaten up. "We weren't armed," said Raouf, "we were demonstrating against violence." He said violent thugs had infilitated the marchers to stir trouble. Others demonstrators agreed with Raouf.

It is unclear how the violence erupted, but it is certain that the military resorted to heavy-handed tactics, attacking demonstrators with tear gas and truncheons. TV footage showed an army vehicle repeatedly driving into the crowd at speed -- back and forth, zig-zagging. It ran over several people.

Shots were fired, but there are conflicting reports on whether the firing was indiscriminate or targeted. Some demonstrators seized weapons from soldiers and fired back, and several army vehicles were set on fire.

State TV Called on Muslims to Help Troops

Channel 1, the state TV broadcaster, likewise got involved by issuing an appeal to Muslims to rush to the aid of the troops. It said Christians were rioting and killing soldiers. Islamist groups armed with knives and sticks responded by marching to the state TV building and joining the fight.

The evening had begun with Christians and Muslims united against violence. It ended with battles between Christians and Islamist Muslims. Copts make up 10 percent of Egypt's roughly 80 million inhabitants.

Businesses owned by Christians were also targeted. According to messages posted on Twitter, several stores selling alcohol were wrecked in Cairo. Rioters also gathered in front of a Coptic hospital and assaulted cars.

Chaos has returned to the center of Cairo, where the Egyptian revolution originated and which has come to symbolize the Arab Spring. In recent months, there had been increasing incidents of clashes between Coptic Christians and Muslims, most recently in the south of Egypt, in the region of Aswan where a Christian church was set ablaze. The army didn't intervene to protect the Copts.

It is unclear who is responsible for the latest escalation -- the military, old Mubarak supporters or just thugs. "Whoever they are," says Rana Gaber, a Muslim woman, "dividing us Egyptians as a people is the filthiest card that is being played here right now."

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf toured the area near the state television building where the clashes erupted. In a message posted on Facebook, he blamed the violence on "invisible forces," who were "the enemies of the revolution and profit from chaos."

Still, it would appear to be the military council itself that might profit most from the chaos. Politial parties and activists, for example, have recently demanded the repeal of an emergency law that allows the army to arrest civilians at will and try them in military courts. Many activists and demonstrators have been arrested based on this law. Sunday's bloodshed has given the military council a reason to keep the emergency law in force.

In addition, the unrest between Christians and Muslims will dominate public debate in the coming weeks. The parliamentary elections planned for the end of November and the handover of power to democratic institutions have faded into the background. The military council may get a free hand to hold onto power for longer.

Lastly, the unrest has demonstrated to Egyptians that a strong hand is needed. The military will have scored points with ordinary Egyptians by taking tough action.

The Coptic Christians will remember the bloody night for a long time to come, and they face difficult weeks ahead. When soldiers are killed, it's easy to mobilize the masses against them, as the state TV channel showed on Sunday. Three soldiers were reported to be among the dead.

"I'm a bit worried," says Alfred Raouf. "I'm lucky to have Muslim friends, I can always find shelter with them."

He and his Muslim friends had gone out together last night to demonstrate for a peaceful Egypt. They plan to attend the next demonstration together as well. They are convinced that not all Christians and Muslims in Egypt can be incited to fight each other.

Article...


© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2011
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with permission


TOP
Die Homepage wurde aktualisiert. Jetzt aufrufen.
Hinweis nicht mehr anzeigen.