Egyptians protest anti-Christian violence
Interim rulers urged to control influence of Salafis
CAIRO — Hundreds of Egyptians protested violence against the country’s Coptic Christian minority yesterday after Muslim mobs burned a church and sparked riots in Cairo that left 13 people dead.
Spiraling sectarian tension is emerging as a major fault line in the tumultuous aftermath of the popular uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak from power in February. Protesters criticized the interim military rulers for their handling of the weekend violence and demanded the officer in charge of the country resign.
Demonstrators, who numbered about 1,000 by midday, said they feared that some in Egypt seek to replace Mubarak’s three decades of autocratic rule with an Islamic state that would marginalize Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s nearly 80 million people. Most are Coptic Christians.
Some of the protesters gathered outside the headquarters of state-run TV along the Nile. Some stones were thrown toward the building, but the protest was largely peaceful.
“We don’t want to bury our heads in the sand,’’ said Rami Kamel, a Coptic protester. “The issue is bigger than rebuilding a church or arresting the culprits. This is Egypt’s fate. Is Egypt becoming a religious state or can we change course and opt for a civil state?’’
Authorities arrested 23 more people yesterday, including two accused of sparking the riots, which started late Saturday and marked a new low in Muslim-Christian relations in Egypt.
Some of the Christian protesters outside the state TV building demanded that measures be taken to control a movement of ultraconservative Muslims known as Salafis that has grown more assertive after the fall of Mubarak. Residents of the Cairo neighborhood where the rioting took place say Salafis orchestrated the violence.
The riots were sparked by a rumor that a Christian woman married to a Muslim man had been abducted by church officials and was being held there against her will.
Muslim mobs attacked two churches in the Imbaba neighborhood, burning one. One more person died yesterday of injuries from the clashes, bringing the death toll to 13. More than 200 people were injured. The unrest continued Sunday afternoon, when Muslims and Christians pelted each other with stones in another part of Cairo.
Fifteen Egyptian rights groups warned of a “civil war’’ in the absence of decisive measures to enforce law and order.
“The new wave of sectarian violence threatens to turn Egypt into a battlefield of civil war between Muslims and Christians,’’ the groups said in a statement. The groups accused the military rulers of not taking decisive measures and of turning a blind eye to the “incitement of religious hatred and sectarian violence’’ in return for political compromises.
Police and soldiers moved in to break up the weekend violence, but it was hours before they effectively cleared the streets around the churches in Imbaba. Authorities arrested 190 people immediately after the church attack, sending them to military prosecutions and threatening the maximum penalty against anyone attacking houses of worship.
YemenYemeni security forces opened fire on demonstrators and launched rocket-propelled grenades at an office building yesterday as they cracked down on a protest in the flashpoint city of Taiz in the country’s south. Three people were killed and dozens wounded, witnesses and medics said.
The attacks came a day after protesters began a new sit-in on one of the city’s main streets, and as tensions escalate across the country between embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh and protesters seeking his ouster.
The security forces opened fire on demonstrators and turned water cannons and tear gas on them at dawn, witnesses said.
The security forces also chased protesters into side streets. They launched rocket-propelled grenades on a building where they believed protesters were hiding, said activist Nouh al-Wafi. The explosion set the building on fire, but there were no reports of casualties there.