Many of the Christians denounced what they called a lack of protection for the funeral. When police did arrive in greater numbers, they fired tear gas, and gas canisters landed inside church grounds caused a panic among women and children, while people outside the church cheered. Some firebombs thrown from near the church landed at a nearby gas station, while witnesses said some in the church lobbed firebombs at the crowd outside.
Two people died during these clashes, one identified as a Christian. Police said they have arrested four implicated in the violence, but didn’t provide details.
The pope was not in the cathedral at the time of the siege.
It is the second religious institution in Egypt to come under recent attack from civilians, with little police intervention. Last week, students from al-Azhar University stormed the offices of the grand sheik of al-Azhar, head of the country’s most eminent Muslim institution, demanding he be held accountable for food poisoning at a dormitory that left hundreds of students hospitalized.
Hamdeen Sabahi, another leading opposition figure who came in third in Egypt’s first presidential elections after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, said the attacks on the cathedral and al-Azhar are attempts by some ‘‘to spread fear and darkness.’’ He spoke at the same conference as ElBaradei.
The U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell, speaking to reporters in Washington, called for restraint on all sides, welcoming Morsi’s promise to investigate the violence.
‘‘We think it’s very important for them to expeditiously investigate all acts of violence regardless of the situation in which it came about.’’
Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s estimated 84 million people. Copts have complained for decades that the Christian minority suffers from discrimination, and recurrent localized violence over issues of building houses of worship or inter-religious love stories that ignite Muslim-Christian tension.
But attacks against Christians have increased since the ouster two years ago of autocrat Mubarak, including more attacks on houses of worships and at times brief evacuations of a whole population of Christians from their villages. Christians have also increasingly worried about their freedom of worship and belief with Islamists increasingly empowered in Egypt’s politics.
In a sign of the anger in the community over the siege of the cathedral, considered the symbol of the Coptic Church, a Christian activist group, the Maspero Youth Union, called on Morsi to step down, accusing him of spreading division and failing to run the country.
‘‘Has the contempt for the sanctity of the dead and the contempt for Copts reached this level?’’ it said in a statement said.