Egypt: Coptic Protests Lead to Violent Suppression

The instability in Egypt has intensified despite the usurpation of Mubarak, as Christian members of the Coptic church protest against the military junta that has been in place since February.

Protests in Egypt Continue

The Egyptian revolution began as a peaceful popular uprising in January 2011, a campaign of non-violent resistance focused on legal and political issues.  Millions of protesters demanded the overthrow of the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.  The primary demands for protest organizers were the end of Hosni Mubarak’s regime and the end of emergency law.  On February 11th, Mubarak resigned from office.  To fill the power vacuum, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi stepped in as the head of state for the military junta.  The military rule is intended to exist for 6 months until elections could be held and until that time, the prior cabinet headed by Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik will continue to serve as a caretaker government until a new one is formed.  Nevertheless, the military junta has not appeased protests, which have continued to occur because of a very real that concerning the possible indefinite rule of the military over the country.

“Now is a time for restrain on all sides so that Egyptians can move forward together to forge a strong and united Egypt.  As the Egyptian people shape their future, the United States continues to believe that the rights of minorities – including Copts – must be respected, and that all people have the universal right of peaceful protest and religious freedom.” – Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary

The attack by the Egyptian army, on Christian who were seeking to peacefully protest Sunday in the center of Cairo, produced tragic and reprehensible results, including an estimated 26 deaths and more than 500 injured.  The Coptic sect, which makes up about 10% of Egypt’s population, were marching to protest the failure by the military government to prevent attacks on their churches.  The existence of the Coptic in Egypt has been a major source of sectarian tension in Egypt, illustrated by a mob attack on a newly built church, considered illegal by local Muslims, in the southern Egypt town of Edfu on September 30th.  In the two days since the violence, Christians have grown furious with the ruling military, verbally attacking the junta with a string of accusations.  The Coptic church has accused the junta of allowing attacks on Christian repeatedly with impunity.  Muslims perpetrators of sectarian violence are rarely punished in Egypt, opting instead for reconciliation talks in which Christians are pressures to drop accusations.

Moreover, witnesses among the Sunday protesters assured the media of peaceful intention of the Christians, but it quickly escalated into violence when the demonstrators were attack by civilians wielding sticks, throwing stones and firing bird shot.  A video circulating online (posted below) depicts at least two military vehicles plowing through crowds of Christian demonstrators at high speeds and even running some of them over.  Other report say that soldiers fired directly at protesters.  In response, the Coptic church has announced three days of fasting and prayers as Christians’ sense of injustice hit a new high.

“The people of Egypt have rights that are universal.  That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech, and the ability o determine their own destiny.  These are human rights.  And the United States will stand up for them.” – Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States

The 24 senior offices on the ruling council have repeatedly said that they wish to handover power to civilians as soon as possible.  Instead, they keep extending their time: having at first promised to carry out transition by last month, they now are talking about a timetable that would keep them in office for at least a year, and maybe much longer.  In the meantime, they have subjected thousands of civilians to unfair military trials, intimidated the media and terrorized tourists and foreign investors with erratic economic decisions, including the rejection of much-needed foreign loans.  Instead of protecting Christian churches and the Israeli embassy, they cite such outbreaks of violence as justification for still more repression – including the extension of the previous regime’s autocratic emergency law, which was one of the primary demands of the protests against Hosni Mubarak.

In retrospect, the sense of chaos in Cairo illustrates that the general should be pressed to accelerate the election of a civilian president to whom power can be handed over.

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