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Cairo killings deepen Coptic Christians' feelings of alienation

Around 25 people were killed and 327 injured in Sunday night clashes outside the state radio and TV building in central Cairo

Gulf News

Cairo: Egypt's Christians, outraged by the killing of more than 20 co-religionists in recent clashes with the army, believe that a popular revolt, which unseated long-standing president Hosni Mubarak earlier this year, has not made their situation better.

"The excessive violence used by the army and security forces against peaceful Coptic protesters outside the TV building on Sunday obviously showed that the government does not take us seriously," said Michael Ebrahim, a 22-year-old Coptic Christian.

"There is no other explanation for why Copts are always oppressed when they seek to express their anger at the discrimination long practised against them," he added.

Around 25 people were killed and 327 injured in Sunday night clashes outside the state radio and TV building in central Cairo, according to the Ministry of Health. The Coptic Christians were protesting the destruction of a church in the southern Egyptian city of Aswan a week earlier.

"Eight months after Mubarak's toppling, official television continues to tell lies," said Marina Latif, a Coptic law student.

"The television claimed that three soldiers were killed during the clashes. Where are the bodies of these soldiers? All the dead victims were Christians," added Latif. "It was a shameful attempt by the television to antagonise Egyptians against the Copts. Our blood is still cheap despite all this talk about values of equality, justice and citizenship in new Egypt," she said.

According to state television, the angry demonstrators threw petrol bombs and fired on soldiers guarding the building near the Nile. Coptic activists and clerics denied the allegations, accusing the security and army forces of using brutal violence against the protesters.

Coptic mourners at a funeral for their slain Christians inside a cathederal in Cairo on Monday chanted slogans against the military council that has been ruling Egypt since Mubarak was ousted in February.

Pope Shenouda, the head of the Coptic Church, meanwhile, accused "strangers of sneaking" into Sunday's protest and inciting the clashes. "Violence is alien to Christianity," the official Middle East News Agency quoted the Coptic cleric as saying.

Christians account for around 10 per cent of Egypt's 80 million population. Sectarian tensions have recently flared up in the predominantly Muslim country over disputed sites of worship and conversions.

"The number of Copts is few. So why do they insist on causing a fuss over building new churches?" said Mahmoud Hussain, a Muslim repairman. "Suppose that their church in Aswan was illegally destroyed, the solution should not have been sought through attacking the army troops and setting public and private cars on fire. Frankly speaking, the Copts take advantage of the chaotic situation in Egypt and the foreign support especially from America to impose their will on us," he added.

Egypt has seen several eruptions of communal violence over recent months. In April, 14 people were killed in clashes between Muslims and Copts after a rumour that a Christian woman, who had converted to Islam, was held against her will inside a church in the working-class district of Imaba in Cairo.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's influential opposition group, has urged the Coptic Christians not to "play into the hands of the country's enemies inside and outside to stir up trouble".

"These confrontations happened due to a small problem in southern Egypt, which could have been solved easily either through cordial mediation or by going to court," it said in a statement.

The group acknowledged Christians' "feelings of marginalisation". "But this is to blame on a corrupt, autocratic regime that did not respect religions and were unfair to all Egyptians," added the group, referring to Mubarak's 30-year rule.