President Hosni Mubarak ordered the " immediate containment" of the crisis that erupted yesterday between the Giza Security bodies and angry Copts, leaving one Coptic protestor dead and dozens injured; an informed governmental source told Ahram Online on condition of anonymity.
According to the same source, the president "was very disturbed by the news" of the clashes, demanded a detailed report and issued “clear directives” that the tension should be contained. The president also asked top officials to provide him with accurate and prompt briefings on developments, said the source.
In a speech earlier this month launching the ruling National Democratic Party’s (NDP) electoral campaign, Mubarak pledged to act firmly against any attempts to undermine the constitutional principle of equal citizenship to Muslims and Copts alike. There had been "repeated attempts to undermine the unity of Egyptian citizens – Muslims and Copts," Mubarak said in his speech on 10 November.
The Wednesday clashes were prompted by security bodies ordering a halt to the construction of a social services annex to a Church in the underprivileged district of Omraneya, pending the issue of the requisite permits.
Unlike Muslims who have easy access to permits to build mosques, including in the basements of apartment buildings, Copts have to deal with a much more complicated legal process governing the issue of permits required for the construction of churches, or even their renovation. These restrictions were introduced under Ottoman rule (1517-1914) and were never fully repealed.
In theory, a fallen wall in a church cannot be reconstructed without a presidential permit. In an attempt to ease such restrictions, Mubarak issued a decree a few years ago delegating this authority to governors, but as the current crisis amply demonstrates; restrictions remain very much in force.
The forthcoming Parliament is expected to finalize controversial draft legislation that introduces egalitarian measures for the construction of mosques and churches.
Meanwhile, Al-Ahram Online learned that the Coptic Orthodox Church is very disturbed by the ferocity of the security forces clampdown on the Coptic protestors. The same source added that Pope Shenouda III, the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, is under pressure from church leaders and the Coptic community to make “a strong expression of Coptic anger.”
The Pope, the same source said, is very hurt by what happened but he has yet to speak his mind.
Meanwhile, independent Coptic sources say one of the ideas being floated is to stage a peaceful candle-light demonstration at the Coptic Cathedral in Abbassyia, in north Cairo.
Sectarian tensions have been running high in recent months, and attempts by Al-Azhar Mosque, the highest Muslim moral authority, and the Coptic Church to contain these tensions have only had a cosmetic impact.
Coptic Christmas celebrations next January 7th will include sad remembrance of six young Copts who were cold-bloodedly shot to death in the Upper Egyptian city of Nagaa Hamady on Christmas eve last year, as they were coming out of Church. A local politician, reportedly, hired a known thug to do the random shooting, allegedly to punish the Church for backing a political rival. The case has been in court for close on a year, but no verdict has been issued as yet.
a thug who was reportedly hired by a politician to avenge the alleged association of the Coptic Church there with a political adversary. No verdict has been issued yet.