Hundreds of Egyptian Copts and supporters organised an angry protest and started a sit-in Tuesday night to voice fury over their renewed feeling of persecution and injustice in the wake of last month’s sectarian tensions in Aswan, Upper Egypt.
Egypt’s minority Coptic population has been fuming since last month after a group of Muslims in Merinab village in Aswan attempted to block renovations underway at a Christian church in the majority Muslim village, charging that the building was actually a ‘guesthouse’ that cannot be turned into a church.
Coptic protesters congregated in the main square in Cairo’s neighborhood of Shubra, which is home to a large concentration of Egyptian Christians.
As planned by “The Union of Maspero Youth” and “Copts Without Constraints”, the demonstrators started to march at 5pm CMT towards the Supreme Courthouse, the destination where the protest ended.
After the march, a few hundreds angry Copts re-gathered at Maspero to start an open-ended sit-in that blocked the main street across from the TV building.
What added insult to injury to many Copts is that official documents were presented by Christians verifying that the building in Merinab has been a licensed church for 80 years.
Several demonstrations were staged later in Cairo and Aswan, with Copts calling for the punishment of the assailants. However, Christians and protesters got no decisive response from the authorities.
Governor of Aswan, Mustafa El-Sayed, widely deemed biased towards Christians, incurred the bulk of the wrath among demonstrators. During Tuesday’s march, protesters burned many medium-sized photos of El-Sayed and dubbed him “The Killer” in angry chants.
Protesters also came down hard quite on Field Marshal Tantawi and his ruling military council. Many blamed Tantawi for not providing Copts with the proper protection against sectarian violence.
“The people want to bring down the Field Marshal [Tantawi],” was one of many other slogans that resounded in Shubra during the march. They hold him culpable for “the Junta’s incompetence and inability to make Egypt a modern state”. Others accused him of being more loyal to other countries such as Saudi Arabia and the US.
The march caused a traffic bottleneck in Shubra as marchers called on people in residential buildings to come down and join them.
Some of the banners and placards that were held aloft along with many crosses read: “No for religious discrimination”, “No for misleading media”, “We die, for our church to live” and “Muslim and Christian [are] one hand”.
Some protesters also carried a carton-coffin that was marked: “The power of the law has passed away”. Others chanted: “Hold you head high up, because you are a Copt”. Two pickup trucks loaded with amplifiers and microphones led the chants throughout the march.
Thirty-six-year-old Sameh was one of the protesters. He told Ahram Online: “I want to see a strong reaction to the destruction of the church. It’s not nearly enough to promise to build a new one; we have sufficient money to build 100 churches.
“What we really want is to see the culprits captured and sanctioned. With the emergency law activated, it shouldn’t be a tough mission at all,” he added.
Another protester Boules Habib, a 27-year-old tradesman, said: “We are not exactly unemployed or have all the time in the world, but this is crucially important. I closed my business and lost some money to take part in the march, and so did others.
“This is the third arson attack on churches. First in Atfeeh, Giza then Imbaba, Cairo and now in Aswan.”
Sameh sarcastically added: “I just want the attackers to tell me when the fourth church will be set ablaze, given that they must be assured by now that perpetrators of violence against Copts are never brought to justice.”
Mina Thabet, a member of the executive office of The Union of Maspero Youth, a group that led several mass protests against anti-Coptic violence since last February, said to Ahram Online: “We are planning to deliver a damning report – prepared by a fact-finding committee – on what happened in Aswan to the media soon. We will up the ante.”
Indeed, few hundred Copts blocked the street in Maspero late Tuesday night, and announced holding an open-ended sit-in set to last till demands are met.
Copts have also been protesting in several other governorates in solidarity with attacked congregations in Aswan.