CAIRO (Reuters) - At least 2,000 people rallied in Cairo on Friday in a show of unity between Muslims and Christians and to express anger at the ruling military council after 25 people died when a protest by Coptic Christians led to clashes with the army.
Sunday’s violence, the worst since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in February, prompted criticism that the council was resorting to the same brutal tactics that Mubarak’s police force had used against dissenters.
Activists said armored vehicles had sped into crowds on Sunday and that troops had used live ammunition to disperse the protest in Cairo which took place after an attack on a church building in southern Egypt.
The incident sparked nationwide fears of growing sectarian tension in the Muslim-majority country.
The army, which was initially praised when it took control after Mubarak was ousted for its restraint in handling protests,
denied its troops had opened fire.
On Friday the marchers in Cairo were mostly Muslims with some Christians. They waved Egyptian flags and chanted, “this is not sectarian strife, it’s a military conspiracy.”
Anger toward the military has been growing as the transition to civilian rule has dragged on.
Some participants wore black t-shirts with printed images of Mina Daniel, a young Coptic Christian activist who died during the clashes.
“We are all Mina Daniel” shouted the demonstrators, echoing the popular anti-torture Facebook group called “We are all Khaled Said” which was named after a Muslim activist who rights groups said was beaten to death by police during Mubarak’s era.
“Muslims, go on, tell your fellow Christians that we are all in the same boat.”
“Muslims and Christians, hand-in-hand,” they called out.
The rally ran from Cairo’s Al-Azhar mosque to the Cathedral of Abbasiya, Egypt’s biggest church, before heading to Tahrir Square, the epicentre of protests that toppled Mubarak and now a central gathering point for many demonstrators.
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.
In Sunday’s protest, Christians who took to the streets accused Muslims of partially demolishing a church in Aswan province at the end of September. Muslims in the village say the building did not have a license, but deny attacking it.
Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million people, say Islamists have been using disputes over the legal status of some church buildings to stir up sectarian conflict.
Writing by Shaimaa Fayed; Editing by Matthew Jones