Egypt sectarian strife kills 13, army sees threat

CAIRO Wed Mar 9, 2011 4:23pm EST

1 of 6. A worker living in Manshiyet Nasser holds a paper reading: 'Christian and Muslim, we are Egyptian' in eastern Cairo March 9, 2011, where clashes between Egyptian Christians and Muslims occurred on Tuesday night.

Credit: Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Related Topics

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's military rulers urged national unity and warned of the dangers of anarchy Wednesday after 13 people were killed in the worst Christian-Muslim violence since Hosni Mubarak was toppled from power.

A new cabinet met for the first time and decided it would on Thursday redeploy the police force which largely disintegrated in the first days of the uprising that swept Mubarak from the presidency and left the military in control.

The Health Ministry said 13 people were killed and 140 wounded in sectarian violence Tuesday ignited by tensions that have built up since an arson attack on a church south of Cairo Saturday.

The strife poses another challenge to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces which has been governing with a depleted police force and wants to hold elections within six months so it can relinquish power.

In a meeting with members of the cabinet, the military council urged citizens to unite and warned against chaos "which threatens national security, especially with the existence of foreign forces targeting the country's stability and security."

The state news agency did not elaborate on the council's reference to foreign threats, but said the meeting had addressed "sectarian strife" and its impact on the nation and economy.

Egyptians took pride in the Christian-Muslim solidarity displayed during the revolution that toppled Mubarak on February 11 and hoped the uprising had buried tensions that have flared up with increasing regularity in recent years.

It was not clear how many of the dead from Tuesday's violence were Christian or Muslim. The trouble had started on a Cairo highway where Christians had been protesting over the arson attack on the church south of the capital.

The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group and Egypt's best organized political force, warned of attempts by remnants of Mubarak's regime "to ignite strife in these delicate circumstances."

Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie called on Egyptians to stand in "one line to support the armed forces and the cabinet so they will be able to realize the demands of the revolution."

"NEW VISION"

Hundreds of people faced off in the violence, hurling petrol bombs and rocks, witnesses said. Injuries included head wounds, bullet wounds and broken limbs, the state news agency quoted a senior Health Ministry official as saying. At least one of the dead, an 18-year-old Christian, had been shot in the back.

It was not clear who had opened fire. The military, trying to restore order, had opened fire in the air at one point.

"The supreme military council, the government and civil society must react because we do not want this to escalate and I fear we may return to the dark tunnel of sectarian tension," said Amr Hamzawy, an analyst and part of the reform movement.

The attack on the church was triggered by a family dispute over a romance between a Muslim woman and a Christian man. Similar stories have triggered strife in the past.

Hundreds of Christians have been protesting outside the Cairo headquarters of state television since the arson attack.

Seeking to contain tensions, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the military council, has said the military would rebuild the church before Easter.

The Coptic Church, which represents the minority Christian population, issued no comment on the violence and a church official declined to speak about it. In the past, the church has urged calm after such violence.

"The system now does not have the strength or the authority or even the military power to separate Muslims and Christians, if, God forbid, there are further implications," political analyst Diaa Rashwan said. "The system does not even have the power to ease traffic," he added.

New Interior Minister General Mansour el-Essawy said his main priority is to redeploy police forces across the country.

The revolutionary groups which rose up against Mubarak have demanded a major shake-up of the security forces, including the dissolution of an internal security agency with a reputation for human rights abuses and spying on citizens.

Amnesty International condemned what it described as the army's heavy-handed actions to clear Tahrir Square of protesters Wednesday, saying soldiers beat demonstrators and made scores of arrests.

Witnesses said men in plain clothes had hurled stones at a few hundred people gathered in the square which had been the epicenter of the protest movement against Mubarak.

The military council has scheduled a referendum on constitutional reform for March 19. The amendments will open the way to elections for the presidency and parliament, after which the military says it will hand power to a civilian government.

(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (3)
This is not about Islam but text which vilifies other. Clearly the Quran contains text from its Chapter “THE COW” onwards vilifies non-believers and justifies grevious harm against them.

Egypt needs to demand text which vilifies other be removed from Islamic text for it is perpetuating the terror against other as it has done since it was created in the seventh century.

If the text does not change terror increases because the societal template which informs Muslim actions has not changed.

It is the text – change it otherwise the cycle of Muslim terror against other continues from generation to generation.

Mar 09, 2011 5:52am EST  --  Report as abuse
Neurochuck wrote:
All monotheisms from the ME have design features and a history of helping to reduce population numbers in an area of limited arable land and water. Industrialisation in Europe reduced the need for the slaughter, famine, etc of the Reformation and Counter Reformation. (working from almost the same text mjs!)
One good thing about the rise of China is a Taoist, Buddhist, Confucian influenced culture which promotes social harmony and growth.
Having a communist party in charge, with engineers in the leadership, also helps keep human capacity for delusion and fear of the other in check.
Suits the 21st century.

Mar 09, 2011 9:35am EST  --  Report as abuse
I’m not sure why people without knowledge just indulge themselves in stuff apparently they know nothing about such as comment of markjuliansmith. Mentioning Chapter 1 “The Cow” -Al Baqarah- named after the cow that was sacrificed by God’s order at the time when the Israelis argument with Moses to prove God’s power. Anyway in this chapter it was the first verse for Muslim’s to fight for the dignity of the people ,and to fight People who forces others to follow a specific ideology or religion , as Islam believes no one should be forced to pick a religion. It is in the Quran it self that says in Chapter 5 verse 82 (who associate others with Allah ; and you will find the nearest of them in affection to the believers those who say, “We are Christians.” That is because among them are priests and monks and because they are not arrogant).Proving that Islam believes in Jesus and Christianity as a religion. This is the Quran you want to change it’s text not knowing that the text of the Quran with every word and letter in it is a miracle by it self. In the past even non Muslims used to pay per capita tax called Jizya (see wikipedia)for protecting them from intruders and never force them to join an army by force for a religion they dont believe in again means that Islam accepts other religions. Now to Egypt since I’m living in this country and I’m proud to be in Tahrir square and witness the uprising. This old regime wants to steal away people’s victory and cannot stand that their symbols will go to trials , they are now trying to do everything to spread Chaos , first opening prisons to threat people , then burning public assets , demolishing a church , and in later plans a mosque thinking that they will outsmart the Egyptians and engage them in a civil war. Of course those 30 years old remains of the old regime are using secret police to do this. Egyptians will not fall in this trap , we will stay united to pass this stage. Together we can do more.

Mar 09, 2011 5:56pm EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.