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Egypt After Mubarak

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Dozens of Coptic Christians Die in Confrontation with Egyptian Military

October 10th 2011

Egypt - Dead Copts

Egypt’s prime minister, Essam Sharaf, said on October 10 that violent clashes between the army and protesters had "brought us back" to the early days of 2011 when similar protests brought down former dictator Hosni Mubarak. Speaking on television early in the morning, Sharaf said "Instead of going forward, we found ourselves scrambling for security," while averring that the clash had harvested "martyrs, both civilian and from the military." At least 12 troops were reportedly killed in the affray on October 9, while Sherif Doss – a leader of Egypt’s Coptic Christians – claimed that 17 civilians had died and 40 were injured. Other reports suggest that 48 Copts were killed in the clash and dozens injured. An army spokesman claimed that more than 50 troops were injured. Army trucks were set alight. This was the most violent clash in Egypt since January.

The violent protest and military counter attack came just a week after the burning of a Coptic Christian church in southern Egypt. The arson prompted the Sunday protest demanding equality and protection of Coptic churches and monasteries.

The Copts and their supporters had been marching towards the headquarters of the state-run television building when shooting erupted. A spokesman for the Copts said that “unknown” people fired at the army, not the Copts. A protester told CNN that marchers were attacked by thugs wielding swords and clubs. However, a spokesman for the Egyptian interior ministry claimed that it was the protesters who began firing live ammunition at the army and prompted the deadly response. "This is the first time protesters fired at the army," added the military spokesman. "There must be a hidden hand behind this. Egyptians don't do that."

A former Egyptian army general told the BBC on October 10 that its was the protesters who fired first on security forces. He claimed that Coptic Christians and allied protesters were carrying pistols and machine-guns, killing several police and army officers in "cold blood." This conflicted with reports from scores of eyewitnesses who noted that the military's armoured vehicles ran over protesters, killing some and severely injuring others. Observers in Egypt suggest that due to the tensions in Egypt over a stuttering economy and the upcoming elections, the military may have found it politically necessary to smack down the Copts.

Mohammed Abdel Jabaar, spokesman for the Egyptian Revolution Coalition -- which claims to have been part of the movement that led to Mubarak's ouster -- blamed "interference from outside" for spurring the violence. The January 25 youth revolution coalition, which has also supported anti-government protests, denied its participants shot at the security forces. Hundreds of demonstrators also went to Tahrir Square, the hub of the revolutionary movement earlier this year. Observers claim that military police stormed the square with truncheons, while protesters fought back with rocks.

Egypt's National Justice Committee is holding an emergency meeting that will bring together the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the al-Azhar mosque and the Coptic Church to discuss the riots. Egyptian television reported late on October 9 that the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar – the most important religious center in Islam - Ahmed al-Tayyeb, has consulted with leaders of the Coptic Church to find a resolution to the current crisis.

It was the September 30 incineration of the Mar Girgis church in Edfu, a city in Aswan governorate in southern Egypt. This followed a concatenation of murders and persecutions of the Copts that has escalated in recent years, which has been linked to Islamic extremism.  Other examples of targeted violence was the New Year's Day bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria that left 23 worshipers dead. There have also been sectarian clashes, including one in Cairo on May 7 in which at least 12 people were killed. For its part, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent bipartisan federal agency, earlier this year added Egypt to a list of countries named as the worst violators of religious freedom.

Cutting Edge Senior Correpondent Martin Barillas also edits Speroforum.com

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