Monday, October 17, 2011

Coptic Christians under attack

Coptic Christians Attacked! 24 dead in worst Cairo riots since Mubarak ouster

By Maggie Michael, October 9, 2010


CAIRO (AP) — Flames lit up downtown Cairo, where massive clashes raged Sunday, drawing Christians angry over a recent church attack, Muslims and Egyptian security forces. At least 24 people were killed and more than 200 injured in the worst sectarian violence since the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak in February.

The rioting 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 military clamped a curfew on the area until 7 a.m.

The clashes spread to nearby Tahrir Square, drawing thousands of people to the vast plaza that served as the epicenter of the protests that ousted Mubarak. On Sunday night, they battled each other with rocks and firebombs, some tearing up pavement for ammunition and others collecting stones in boxes.

At one point, an armored security van sped into the crowd, striking a half-dozen protesters and throwing some into the air. Protesters retaliated by setting fire to military vehicles, a bus and private cars, sending flames rising into the night sky.

After midnight, mobs roamed downtown streets, attacking cars they suspected had Christian passengers. In many areas, there was no visible police or army presence to confront or stop them.

Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's 80 million people, blame the country's ruling military council for being too lenient on those behind a spate of anti-Christian attacks since Mubarak's ouster. As Egypt undergoes a chaotic power transition and security vacuum in the wake of the uprising, the Coptic Christian minority is particularly worried about the show of force by ultraconservative Islamists.

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, addressing the nation in a televised speech, said the violence threatened to throw Egypt's post-Mubarak transition off course.

"These events have taken us back several steps," he said. "Instead of moving forward to build a modern state on democratic principles we are back to seeking stability and searching for hidden hands — domestic and foreign — that meddle with the country's security and safety."

"I call on Egyptian people, Muslims and Christians, women and children, young men and elders to hold their unity," Sharaf said.

The Christian protesters said their demonstration began as a peaceful attempt to sit in at the television building. But then, they said, they came under attack by thugs in plainclothes who rained stones down on them and fired pellets.

"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 on it. "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.

Ahmed Yahia, a Muslim resident who lives near the TV building, said he saw the military vehicle plow into protesters. "I saw a man's head split into two halves and a second body flattened when the armored vehicle ran over it. When some Muslims saw the blood they joined the Christians against the army," he said.

Television footage showed the military vehicle slamming into the crowd. Coptic protesters were shown attacking a soldier, while a priest tried to protect him. One soldier collapsed in tears as ambulances rushed to the scene to take away the injured.

At least 24 people were killed in the clashes, Health Ministry official Hisham Sheiha said on state TV.

State media reported that Egypt's interim Cabinet was holding an emergency session to discuss the situation.

The protest began in the Shubra district of northern Cairo, then headed to the state television building along the Nile where men in plainclothes attacked about a thousand Christian protesters as they chanted denunciations of the military rulers.

"The people want to topple the field marshal!" the protesters yelled, referring to the head of the ruling military council, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi. Some Muslim protesters later joined in the chant.

Later in the evening, a crowd of Muslims turned up to challenge the Christian crowds, shouting, "Speak up! An Islamic state until death!"

Armed with sticks, the Muslim assailants chased the Christian protesters from the TV building, banging metal street signs to scare them off. It was not immediately clear who the attackers were.

Gunshots rang out at the scene, where lines of riot police with shields tried to hold back hundreds of Christian protesters chanting, "This is our country!"

Security forces eventually fired tear gas to disperse the protesters. The clashes then moved to nearby Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the uprising against Mubarak. The army closed off streets around the area.

The clashes left streets littered with shattered glass, stones, ash and soot from burned vehicles. Hundreds of curious onlookers gathered at one of the bridges over the Nile to watch the unrest.

After hours of intense clashes, chants of "Muslims, Christians one hand, one hand!" rang out in a call for a truce. The stone-throwing died down briefly, but then began to rage again.

In the past weeks, riots have broken out at two churches in southern Egypt, prompted by Muslim crowds angry over church construction. One riot broke out near the city of Aswan, even after church officials agreed to a demand by ultraconservative Muslims known as Salafis that a cross and bells be removed from the building.

Aswan's governor, Gen. Mustafa Kamel al-Sayyed, further raised tensions by suggesting to the media that the church construction was illegal.

Protesters said the Copts are demanding the ouster of the governor, 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.

Last week, the military used force to disperse a similar protest in front of the state television building. Christians were angered by the treatment of the protesters and vowed to renew their demonstrations until their demands are met.

Ahmed Yahia, a Muslim resident who lives near the TV building, said he saw the military vehicle plow into protesters. "I saw a man's head split into two halves and a second body flattened when the armored vehicle ran over it. When some Muslims saw the blood they joined the Christians against the army," he said.

Television footage showed the military vehicle slamming into the crowd. Coptic protesters were shown attacking a soldier, while a priest tried to protect him.





Egypt Christians vent fury after clashes kill 25

By Tamim Elyan and Shaimaa Fayed

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's Coptic Christians turned their fury against the army on Monday after at least 25 people were killed when troops broke up a protest, deepening public doubts about the military's ability to steer the country peacefully toward democracy.

In the worst violence since Hosni Mubarak was ousted, armored vehicles sped into a crowd late on Sunday to crack down on a protest near Cairo's state television.

Online videos showed mangled bodies. Activists said some people were crushed by wheels.

Tension between Muslims and minority Coptic Christians has simmered for years but has worsened since the anti-Mubarak revolt, which gave freer rein to Salafist and other strict Islamist groups that the former president had repressed.

But much of the anger from Sunday's violence targeted the army, accused by politicians from all sides of aggravating social tensions through a clumsy response to street violence and not giving a clear timetable for handing power to civilians.

Late on Monday, thousands marched from Cairo's main cathedral to the Coptic hospital where most of the wounded were treated, calling for religious unity and the removal of the head of the ruling military council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.

"Why didn't they do this with the Salafists or the Muslim Brotherhood when they organize protests? This is not my country any more," Alfred Younan, a Copt, said near the hospital.

Church leaders called for three days of fasting "for peace to return to Egypt."

The military council told the interim government to investigate the clashes urgently and said it would take necessary measures to maintain security, state TV said.

"This is a huge crisis that could end in a civil clash. It could end in dire consequences," said presidential hopeful Amr Moussa. "An immediate investigation committee must be formed, with immediate results."

The clashes overshadow Egypt's first parliamentary poll since Mubarak fell. Voting starts on November 28.

"One big problem Egypt faces now is that, increasingly, there is no one in power with the authority and credibility to calm the situation down," said a senior Western diplomat.

"After (Sunday's) events, there is an increasing risk that the military will come into conflict with the people. The authority of the prime minister is dangerously eroded. None of the presidential candidates yet has the standing."


Christians make up 10 percent of Egypt's roughly 80 million people. They took to the streets after accusing Muslim radicals of partially demolishing a church in Aswan province last week.

They also demanded the sacking of the province's governor for failing to protect the building.

On Monday, mourners packed the Abbasiya cathedral, where Coptic Pope Shenouda prayed over candle-lit coffins of the dead. Many wept and chanted slogans calling for Tantawi to step down.

The congregation wailed as some held aloft bloodstained shirts and trousers. "With our souls and blood we sacrifice ourselves for the cross," they cried.

Some protesters said agitators, whom they described as thugs, sparked violence that prompted the heavy-handed tactics.

The Health Ministry said 25 people were killed and 329 wounded, including more than 250 who were taken to hospital.

Mina Magdy, a doctor at the hospital, said it had dealt with 17 fatalities. Fourteen of the deaths were due to bullet wounds and three were killed when vehicles ran over them, he said.

Streets near the state television building had been largely cleared of debris on Sunday, but smashed and burned vehicles lined streets in the area near the Coptic hospital, which was also the scene of violence overnight.

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, appearing on state TV in the early hours of Monday, said the government's attempts to build a modern, democratic state were being disrupted by security concerns and talk of plots against democracy.

"We will not surrender to these malicious conspiracies and we will not accept reverting back," he said before the interim cabinet met and launched an investigation into the violence.

Justice Minister Mohamed Abdel Aziz el-Guindy said the investigation and any trials would be handled by military courts. State newspaper Al Ahram said 15 people were being investigated. State media had said dozens were detained.


The United States urged restraint and said the rights of minorities and the universal rights of peaceful protest and religious freedom must be respected.

"These tragic events should not stand in the way of timely elections and a continued transition to democracy that is peaceful, just and inclusive," the White House said in a statement.

European Union ministers expressed alarm and said the authorities had a duty to protect religious minorities.

The clashes add to the growing frustration of pro-democracy activists with the generals who took over from Mubarak. Many Egyptians suspect the army wants to wield power from behind the scenes even as it hands day-to-day government to civilians.

The army council denies this.

It has yet to announce a date for a presidential election. A staggered parliamentary vote that lasts till March followed by drawing up a new constitution could push the vote back to the end of 2012 or early 2013, leaving presidential powers in the hands of the military council until then.

Presidential candidate Moussa and other presidential hopefuls have demanded a swifter presidential vote on April 1. Moussa told Reuters it was important that the violence did not derail the election timetable.

Christians complain of discrimination, citing rules that they say make it easier to build a mosque than a church. Tensions have often in the past flared over inter-faith romantic relationships, church building and other issues.

Protests erupted elsewhere in Egypt including its second biggest city, Alexandria. Copts say promises by the new rulers to address their concerns and protect them have been ignored.

"The new emerging faction of Islamists and Salafists has created havoc since the January revolution ... The problem is the severe reluctance of the cabinet and the authorities to enforce the rule of law and protect the Copts," said Youssef Sidhom, editor in chief of Orthodox Coptic newspaper al-Watani.

The cabinet said a fact-finding committee would probe the violence in Cairo and Aswan and laws would be changed to punish religious and other discrimination with prison terms and fines.

It said a committee would speed up the drafting of a new unified law regulating places of worship. Christians have complained that mosques are far easier to build than churches.

Investors, who Egypt is desperate to attract to plug a deep funding shortfall, sold Egyptian shares, pushing the benchmark index down. The index closed down 2.3 percent.

(Additional reporting by, Maha El Dahan, Shaimaa Fayed, Dina Zayed and Tom Pfeiffer in Cairo, David Brunnstrom in Luxembourg and Laura MacInnis in Washington; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Maria Golovnina)




Inside Cairo's Riots: The Egyptian Junta's True Colors

Rania Abouzeid, Time Magazine





The dead were buried on Monday, more than two dozen Christian Egyptian protesters mowed down by their own military, an army that had won praise back in February for refusing to turn its weapons on demonstrators. After Sunday night's violence, which left 24 dead and more than 270 wounded, according to the Egyptian Health Ministry, the Arab Spring seems a long time ago. A military council led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi is now in charge of Egypt, and it is resurrecting many of the tactics of deposed President Hosni Mubarak to instill fear and keep the citizenry in line, like using state TV to spread sectarian suspicion and conspiratorial talk of "foreign hands" sowing internal discord.

Sunday's march in Cairo by Coptic Christians — with a fair smattering of sympathetic Muslim participation as well — started out as a peaceful protest against the recent burning of a church by ultraconservative Muslims and the perceived lackadaisical response by the ruling military junta to a spate of anti-Christian attacks since Mubarak's ouster. Events rapidly devolved into chaos, with live ammunition fired, clouds of tear gas released and protesters crushed and killed by military vehicles that reportedly rammed into them. Some protesters responded by throwing rocks. (See pictures of the Coptic Christians' march in Cairo.)

State TV had another narrative: a violent mob of Christians sparked the melee by attacking the military, killing several soldiers. Breathless anchors urged "honorable" citizens to head down along the Nile to the national media building at Maspero to help soldiers defend themselves and public property. The clashes reignited on Monday, when Christians pelted security forces with rocks outside the Cairo hospital where the bodies of victims were taken the previous night. The Coptic church on Monday disputed state TV's claims, saying there was no evidence that Christian protesters shot at soldiers. Church officials called for a three-day fast to protest the events.

The Muslim Brotherhood's Essam el-Erian condemns the violence, telling TIME that this is a critical period for the country, a "time for solidarity, to implement a state of law, and to make reconciliation between all sections of society."

Egypt's Christians, who make up about 10% of the country's 80 million or so people, have watched warily as Salafists and other ultraconservative Muslims, long kept underfoot by Mubarak, have begun exercising their political rights — and influence — in the wake of the February revolution. At 8 million or so, Egypt's Copts are easily one of the biggest Christian communities in the Middle East, but unlike the much smaller Christian population in Lebanon, for example, they lack political muscle. (Lebanon is the only country in the Middle East with a Christian head of state mandated by political consensus.) (See TIME's exclusive pictures of the turmoil in Egypt.)

It's a trying period for the Middle East's dwindling Christian communities as secular pan-Arab, anti-Islamist regimes fall by the wayside and leave political vacuums in their place. The precedent of Iraq looms large. There were some 800,000 Christians in the country before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 toppled Saddam Hussein. Since then, hundreds of thousands have fled the war-ravaged state. In majority-Sunni Syria, the minority Christians have largely sided with Bashar Assad's brutal regime in public, fearful of what may follow it, although many prominent Christians are also part of the opposition. "This is a dangerous period, one that will determine in which direction the country is going," says Emad Gad, a Copt and leader of the Egyptian Social Democratic party. "Are we taking the first steps toward creating a real state or are we going toward sectarian conflict and war?"

Sunday's violence in Cairo has significance beyond the country's religious divisions. This is a wider conflict in which Egyptians of all religions are turning against a military regime that just eight months ago was hailed for ensuring a peaceful transfer of power after Mubarak was forced from office. The fruits of Egypt's revolution have yet to be savored by millions who hoped a quick revolution would bring even quicker economic, social and political benefits. The economy has slumped, and the generals — who initially pledged to hand back power to a civilian administration in six months — seem increasingly comfortable at the helm. Their recently announced electoral timetable would keep them in charge until presidential elections in 2013, much to the ire of many. "I don't think we'll have elections at all," Gad says, echoing a sentiment relayed on Twitter and other social media. "I think that the army let the violence happen so that it could cancel the elections and remain in power."

The Brotherhood's el-Erian warns against any delay to the elections. "We cannot move forward without elections," he tells TIME. "We can overcome all of these trials with solidarity and national consensus ... The people are waiting for elections and to have a new system."

As the exuberance of Arab Spring becomes a faraway memory in the Middle East, a counterrevolution is gaining ground, exploiting the sectarianism that power brokers in the region have long used to keep their populations at bay. Will Egyptians and other Arabs see through it? Or will they be sucked into its vortex? What happens next on Cairo's streets will be critical. - Copts Can Have Faith in U.S. Justice

Copts Can Have Faith in U.S. Justice

Thursday, January 20, 2005

By Matt Hayes

The grisly murder Jan. 14 of an entire family of Egyptian immigrants in Jersey

City, N.J., has had seismic effects on the United States' small community of

Coptic Christians (search).

The family members, including two daughters, ages 16 and 8, were found bound and

gagged in their home, their throats either slit or stabbed, according to

somewhat conflicting reports.

By all accounts, they were devout Copts — a sect of Christianity that predates

Islam in Egypt. Today, Copts make up about 10 percent of the Egyptian population

and are often the targets of persecution and violence there.

The victims' country of origin, faith and manner of death immediately led to

speculation that the killings may have been motivated by religion, their

assailant possibly Muslim (search). When it was revealed that the father, Hossam

Armanious (search), was an outspoken critic of Islam who made his views known by

frequenting Islamist chatrooms on the Internet, the theory that the family's

slaughter was a revenge killing with religious overtones firmly took hold. The

story was quickly picked up by Internet blogs and became national news.

Local newspapers treated the family's funeral as a near riot. (While it was

attended by thousands, a single person yelled anti-Muslim slogans before being

stopped.) Meanwhile, investigators either do not yet have much information about

the case or, quite possibly, are declining to make many details known. Either

way, the case right now remains shrouded in mystery, fueling endless speculation

and countless theories.

Much clearer, however, is the root of the massive outpouring of grief and

solidarity from Copts, a little-known community of recent American immigrants.

Large numbers of Coptic Christians are able to immigrate to the United States on

claims of asylum. Asylum claims by Copts are generally regarded to be credible

by virtue of the State Department's country condition reports — meaning the U.S.

government believes that Coptic Christians are subjected to a certain level of

persecution and danger in Egypt.

It's difficult to find Copts among Egypt's power structure — in particular, in

law enforcement — and though lethal incidents happen only every few years, there

are instances of large numbers of Copts being killed by Muslims.

In 1997, a suspected Islamic militant gunned down nine Copts. The preceding

year, Muslim militants ambushed and murdered eight Copts. In January 2000, at Al

Kosheh, 23 people were killed in a riot between Muslims and Copts. Twenty-one of

the dead were Copts.

Prosecutions, however, are rare.

"Every few years, a group of Copts will be massacred, and the Egyptian

government does little about it," says one woman who attended the Armanious

funeral. "Investigations usually stop with a closed police file, and are almost

never referred for prosecution," she said.

Because a successful asylum claim requires the applicant to have some particular

experience or rational fear of persecution, Copts who have immigrated to America

are bound together by their common flight from religious persecution, and they

bring with them a heightened awareness of persecution.

So, fears that this family has met a fate it fled Egypt to escape are

understandable within the community. However, it seems that Copts are also

beginning to fear that the American justice system will fail them as the

Egyptian one did, a fear that is likely unwarranted.

Fortunately, however, while the investigation of the Armanious murders remains

open, there are also signs of hope within the community that immigrant Copts

have some faith that they will not repeat their Egyptian experience with law

enforcement in the United States.

"We cannot speculate. We ask that the police and FBI, who we have great trust

in, complete their investigations," said Bishop Anba David (search) of the

Coptic Orthodox Diocese of North America, who conducted the Armanious funeral.

"We hope that the people who did this will be found and brought to justice for

this terrifying crime. God doesn't accept innocent blood. No matter what has

been written or said, we want justice."

There's no question that Copts' experience in Egypt will color their perception

of this investigation. But Bishop David's statement shows an abiding — and

encouraging — belief in the American system. Hopefully, religion was not the

motivation for these killings. Hopefully, too, whether it was a bias crime or

not, these killers will soon be facing the full force of American justice.

Matt Hayes began practicing immigration law shortly after graduating from Pace

University School of Law in 1994, representing new immigrants in civil and

criminal matters. He is the author of the soon to be published, "The New

Immigration Law and Practice."


Egypt's State Media Implicated In Violence Against Christian Demonstrators

GMT 10-13-2011 23:50:16
Assyrian International News Agency

AINA) -- Egyptian state television has been accused of spreading false information and inciting violence against Christians protesting in front of the TV building in Maspero on October 9. Calls have been made for the Information Minister Osama Heikal to resign. Egyptian lawyer Hamdi el-Assuiti filed a complaint with the Prosecutor General against the Minister of Information and TV presenter Rasha Magdi, accusing them of "deliberate broadcast of false news, information and rumors, which disturbed public security, causing terror among the public, and harming public interest."

While the event of the attack on the Copts was ongoing, news presenters called on Egyptians to come to the aid of their armed forces, which were being attacked by "armed Coptic protesters, killing three military personnel and wounding many," said broadcaster Rasha Magdi. The news bar read the same for over three hours.

Angry Muslim young men from the neighbouring Boulak, Sabtiya and Ezbet el Safih in Ramsis, hurried to the help the army, chanting anti-Christian slogans and intercepting Copts in the streets and assaulting them with stones, clubs, and firearms, before going to Maspero to join the military police attack on the peaceful protesters.

Dr. Emad Gad, head of strategic studies at Al Ahram Organization, called on the Minister to resign, saying the State television's coverage "could have led to wide-scale massacres, or even civil war. I know Copts who did not go to work for two days, afraid to leave their homes."

"This was devastating to the Muslim-Christian relationship," said Nabil Sharaf-eldin, Muslim liberal and head of El-Azma electronic news wire, who attended the Maspero candle vigil before being joined by the 150,000 Christians arriving from Shubra district. He said on his way back home he heard Muslim comments against Christians, adding "it caused a spiritual divorce between them that will never heal."

The Information Minister denied that military armored vehicles were crushing protesters alive. He denied it an interview with Al-Arabiya TV, only to be embarrassed by video footage showing army vehicles indiscriminately driving into crowds of Coptic protesters (Al-Arabiya video).

The State television issued a correction in the morning after the protest, saying no army personnel were killed and it was the fault of the "nervous" TV presenter.

Presenter Rasha Magdi appeared on an independent TV channel and said that she was given the text to read by a "big TV official" and was unaware of the clashes taking place outside the TV building. She admitted to being unprofessional by not mentioning how many Copts were killed.

Hundreds of journalists, broadcasters and public media figures marched today from Sahafa (Press) Street to the State-run TV building in Maspero to denounce the "Sectarianism of the media," calling for the resignation of the Information Minister and a clean-up of the Egyptian State TV, accusing it of igniting sectarian strife.

The demonstrators held the military council and the Minister of Information responsible for the bloody clashes, which took place on Sunday night in front of the Maspero. They held Egyptian flags with the cross and the crescent (the symbol of Islam) on it and banners reading "Osama Haikal set Egypt on fire by the television's coverage."

Two days ago, Major Atman of the Supreme Council of the Armend Forces (SCAF) complimented the Egyptian state TV on its coverage of the Maspero incident.

By Mary Abdelmassih


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