At least 26 people are dead and more than 320 are injured following several clashes between Christians, Muslims and Egyptian security forces late Sunday night. It marked the worst violence in Egypt since the 18-day uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak in February.
Egyptian authorities imposed a curfew Sunday on central Cairo after the deadly violence between Coptic Christian protesters and the security forces erupted.
Coptic Christians, who make up about 10% of Egypt’s population, blame Egypt’s ruling military council for being too lenient on those responsible for a spate of anti-Christian attacks since the ouster of Mubarak. Sunday’s protests occurred because the religious group was upset over the recent destruction of a church in southern Egypt, Al Jazeera reports. So many of them took to the streets Sunday for a peaceful protest, which soon turned violent.
The clashes between the Christians, “thugs in plainclothes” and security forces, lasted late into the night, bringing out a deployment of more than 1,000 security forces and armored vehicles to defend the state television building along the Nile, where the trouble began.
“The protest was peaceful. We wanted to hold a sit-in, as usual,” said Essam Khalili, a protester wearing a white shirt with a cross drawn on it, the Associated Press reports. “Thugs attacked us and a military vehicle jumped over a sidewalk and ran over at least 10 people. I saw them.”
Wael Roufail, another protester, corroborated the account, “I saw the vehicle running over the protesters. Then they opened fired at us,” he said.
Khalili said protesters set fire to army vehicles when they saw them hitting the protesters.
Hossam Bahgat, from the Egyptian initiative for personal rights, told Al Jazeera that Sunday night’s clashes were unprecedented.
“There is nothing like what we saw yesterday, because it was the army,” he said. “For the first time [the Christians] are not being attacked by Muslim extremists or police security forces, but by the army. We don’t understand why the army resorted to such measures. There needs to be an independent investigation into the attacks, and it should not be carried out by the army.”
Many of the protests, which included Coptic Christians, Muslims, other Christians, secularists and other political groups have grown frustrated at what they perceive as the military ruling party betraying the revolution that ousted Mubarak.
The clashes spread to nearby Tahrir Square and the area around it, drawing in thousands of people. They battled each other with rocks and firebombs, the AP reports, some tearing up pavement for ammunition and others collecting stones in boxes. The clashes left streets littered with shattered glass, stones, ashes and soot from burned vehicles.
After the violent clashes died down, chants of “Muslims, Christians one hand, one hand” rang out in a call for a truce.
Protests from both Muslims and Christians over churches have been building in Egypt over the last few weeks. Tiots have broken out at two churches in southern Egypt, prompted by Muslim crowds angry over church construction. Last week, security forces had to disperse a similar protest by Christian Coptics in front of the state television building.
The Coptics have vowed to keep their peaceful protests and demonstrations going until their demands are met, which include ” the ouster of [Aswan’s] governor [Gen. Mustafa Kamel al-Sayyed], reconstruction of the church, compensation for people whose houses were set on fire and prosecution of those behind the riots and attacks on the church.”
The Al Jazeera liveblog of the protest has some excellent photos of Sunday’s protests and violence. Here’s some raw footage of the Egyptian armored security vehicles driving right through throngs of protesters. Unbelievable. Also, a good timeline of events of the last day, along with live updates, is available here.
A video report from Al Jazeera: