“I don’t know whether or not you are honest! Many reporters have twisted our words and changed facts on what has been going on! This is how terrible the press is in Egypt!” fumed Peter Yakoob, head of the makeshift clinic at the Coptic Maspero sit-in, while talking to Ahram Online. After voicing dissatisfaction over the “disgraceful” role of the media in the ongoing sectarian strife, Yakoob hit out at the “passive” army and government.
The young doctor was evidently exasperated by Saturday’s bloody attacks on Copts, when a huge number of thugs systematically assaulted and injured many of the peaceful protesters near the State Radio and Television building, using firearms, knives, stones and Molotov cocktails.
“Several newspapers said only around 25 people had been injured, which is utter nonsense,” Yakoob said. “The fact is that at least 100 sustained wounds that needed to be stitched; another 50 suffered shallow cuts and 10 had bones fractured ... Over 25 people are in critical condition.
“Some rumours were also circulated thanks to the media. It was wrongfully said we burned a copy of the Quran and killed a Salafist. Such baseless allegations escalated tensions for sure.”
According to several first-hand accounts, police and military forces were deployed in small numbers near the sit-in during the attacks but were nothing more than onlookers when the “hired” thugs arrived. Reinforcements came too late to contain the situation.
“From the injuries I have seen, I can tell that the thugs were trying to kill us. When someone hits you on your forehead [with a sword] he definitely wants you dead,” Yakoob explained in the same angry tone. “Policemen informed us that an attack was on the cards; they knew what was going on but didn’t provide us proper protection.
“The army want us to leave at all costs; they arrived too late and wanted to cross from the side of the street where the injured people were lying, whereas the other side was empty. They even threatened to walk away. Isn’t that their job, to protect us?! And they are leaving us vulnerable up until now.
“This is not sectarian hatred, this is persecution. Our demands are in fact basic rights; when I say I want to be equal to my [Muslim] brother, that’s quite reasonable, but the government doesn’t respond to us seriously.”
Andrawes Eiweda, a member of the political office of the Maspero Youth, also believes the government is unfairly treating Copts. “The sit-in might be suspended if some of our demands were met. However, we have been waiting for a week now and almost nothing happened,” he said. “From the way I see it, the minister of interior is behind the attack. The authorities want us to out.”
Today is the eighth day of the sit-in prompted by the attack on Copts and two churches in Imbaba on 7 May. Twelve were killed and more than 200 injured during the sectarian violence. The Coptic protesters refused to end their sit-in at Maspero Sunday, although Pope Shenouda III has asked them to return home.
The Maspero Copts are calling for the reopening of all closed churches, the release of Coptic detainees, and investigations into all sectarian attacks against Christians in the past few years. “All demands have to be fulfilled,” another member from the political office, Sami Shohdi, told Ahram Online.