Exhausted from the latest sectarian attacks on two churches Saturday night that left 12 dead, Ahram Online witnesses bouts of fighting to sobbing and hears the demands and fears of Copts at their protest in the state media building
Sometimes it turns violent and other times it’s eerily quiet, giving an unhindered forum for the protesters to voice their anger and mourning. Outside the state TV building, known as Maspero, hundreds of heavy-hearted Egyptian Christians, many sobbing and garbed in black, staged a sit-in in against sectarian violence in the wake of deadly attacks on two churches in Imbaba Saturday, killing 12 people, leaving hundreds more injured and raising fears of a follow-up attack.
A heavy army and police detail cordoned the area surrounding the building Egypt’s Radio and Television building, blocking all the side streets leading to the area while army staff checked IDs.
A line of riot police on walkie-talkies fanned out across the streets surrounding Maspero.
A few metres away from the checkpoint sits 21 year-old Michael Tadros, sobbing heavily and shouting “Isn't it enough to kill our brothers, spoil our prayers and celebrations and leave us in fear and terror?"
His father, who was holding his hand said "Don’t worry! God is with us. He will help us" to which Tadros reacted to with great anger, shouting "We can't keep silent and just keep praying. We should take revenge. We should protect ourselves… the army isn’t protecting us, not Pope Shenouda. No one."
Banners read "Down down with Tantawi [the minister of defence and head of the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces]," "Where's the international community?" and "We won’t surrender our rights anymore." Other placards were fixed on the tents surrounding the place, where angry Copts spent their night in fear of possible attacks from the army or from thugs, whom are commonly thought to be bought by the former regime in order to break up protests.
Fear, anger and little hope was the spirit today in Maspero. A group of protestors started chanting slogans such as "We're all Egyptians, no matter if we’re Muslim or Christian,” “We're all one against terrorism” and “Egypt for Egyptians.”
Mina Hanna, one of the young protestors who suggested some of the chants to “pacify the situation and unite protestors” said they won’t end their sit-in until all demands are met, which include the trial of all criminals who committed Saturday's attack and the release of all Christians detained by the army since 9 March. The military is accused of arresting people for politically-motivated reasons or simply randomly when things get out of hand.
"Our problem is not the Muslims - many of them joined the protests as a show of solidarity. Our problem is with fanatic Salafists. God take them all and rid us of them and everything will be fine," Hanna said before he suddenly vanished as a sudden fight erupted between two young men.
Maspero, which was already edgy suddenly turned into a war zone.
Spontaneous fighting exploded everywhere. Stones flew and other projectiles showered the whole area. Army officers started their random arrests. Some angry protestors started throwing stones at the army officers, who quickly stepped back behind the cordon, leaving people to fight each other.
Once the situation turned upside down all pacifist voices were shut off by the masses. No one wanted to hear anything about unity between Muslims and Christians or between Egyptians in this edgy situation.
"Call us unpatriotic, call us hypocrites: we seek international arbitration," Youssef Abdullah, a Coptic lawyer told Ahram Online, having just ended an interview with a Canadian channel, one of several international and local press which came to capture the moment.
"We're seeking one million signatures to get international arbitration," says Abdullah "These are not spontaneous attacks, as some described it. These are planned serial attacks on Egypt's Copts and with the chaos in the country it's getting serious."
During a New Year's Eve celebration a massive explosion occurred outside the Two Saints Church in the northern Egyptian city of Alexandria, leaving 23 dead and 79 injured.
"This time it's different" says Coptic activist Rola Sobhy "Every time there's an attack on Copts, they try to give us some 'painkillers' to calm the situation, and yet it happens again and again."
"Structural changes need to take place" adds Sobhy "We don’t want them to rebuild the attacked churches: we know how to do that already. What we need is to try Salafist sheikhs who incite sectarian violence, including Sheikh Hassan, who is being treated like a hero."
Salafist Sheikh Mohamed Hassan joined a delegation of army officers that went to Atfeeh, Helwan, where a church was burned on 4 March, reportedly as a result of a love affair between a young Muslim woman and a young Coptic man, leading to a mob attack on the church, as well as Coptic homes in the village.
Mohamed Hassan gave a speech, showing solidarity with Christians and denouncing all kinds of violence against Copts, however Copts seem uncomfortable with the idea of the army using a Muslim sheikh to address Christians.
"This is a clear political game between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood," elaborates Rola "they incite people against each other, point fingers at Salafists, so that people say ‘oh yes, the Muslim Brotherhood is less harmful than Salafists’ and we vote for them in the elections."
That way, Rola adds, Tantawi, who is part of the former regime, is no longer threatened by a new president who might put him on trial, considering he would have helped get the Muslim Brotherhood reach a parliamentary majority or even presidency.
One old woman, with a tattoo of a cross on her wrist, sitting on the pavement began sobbing hysterically and shouted “Enough discrimination, enough second-class treatment for my son - this time we'll take our revenge."