A group of Egyptian political parties and potential presidential candidates held a press conference Monday to issue a joint statement on Sunday clashes between thousands of protesters calling for equal rights for Copts and the army which left at least 24 dead and hundreds injured, but ended the meeting when they could not agree on the statement’s contents.
The group announced that consultations to reach an agreement are underway and that they would soon talk to media again.
The meeting, which took place at the El-Sawy Culture Wheel, was chaotic, and speakers were repeatedly interrupted as audience members scuffled with each other, verbally abused the speakers and attempted to climb on the stage.
The press conference was attended by a multitude of Egypt’s political operatives including presidential candidates Ayman Nour, head of the Ghad Party; Amr Moussa, former head of the Arab League; and Bothaina Kamel.
It was also attended by Naguib Sawiris, Coptic business tycoon and founder of the Free Egyptians Party; Amr Hamzawy, leader of the Freedom Egypt Party; Mohamed Abou El-Ghar of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party; Amin Iskandar of the Nasserist Karama Party; and Tarek El-Malt, official spokesperson of the Islamist Wasat Party.
Among the speakers were also some of the country’s top political activists, including legal expert Hossam Eissa; members of Kefaya, George Ishaq and Karima Hefnawy; political activist Gameela Ismail; former member of parliament Rami Lakah; and Coptic activist Michael Mounir.
The conference was opened by Moussa who warned that yesterday’s event was a "big catastrophe" that is not merely the latest episode of sectarian tension but the beginning of a faceoff between Egypt’s Muslims and Christians, not only in Cairo but all over Egypt. He also insisted that the Maspero attacks were initiated by thugs trying to create chaos in the country.
“This cannot be repeated; we are at the door of a huge confrontation, not just in Maspero but all over Egypt,” Moussa said.
The former head of the Arab League and a one-time Mubarak foreign minister also called for a truth finding commission to investigate yesterday’s events and quickly produce results to calm the public.
Hamzawy, Egypt’s rising liberal political star, told the crowd that Egypt has been struggling with a security vacuum for eight months and immediate action must be taken. He said the chaos is due to a lack of law enforcement and insisted that laws need to be applied immediately to curtail the crisis.
Among these laws, Hamzawy insisted, is the issuing of a unified building code for houses of worship to ease restrictions on Copts. This law, said Hamzawy, has been drafted and repeatedly discussed but to no avail. He also condemned recent restrictions on press freedom and Sunday’s attack by the army on news station Al-Hurra TV.
He also echoed Moussa’s demand for a truth committee to investigate yesterday’s clashes but insisted the commission must be civilian in composition and independent, and that the armed forces should immediately transfer power to a civilian authority.
Kamel said she participated in yesterday’s march and sought refuge in an apartment in Downtown Cairo only to hear army and police forces scream "Allah Akbar" as they viciously beat protesters.
“We need to purge the army and purify it from the Mubarak regime,” she added, insisting that Egypt’s revolutionaries should not, as some do, put the blame on Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, who had already handed in his resignation six times.
Abdel Galeel Mustafa, of the National Association for Change, also condemned the ruling military council (SCAF), insisting that the generals believe they have “godlike” powers similar to those exercised by the Mubarak regime, and they should hand over executive authority to the government which is currently powerless.
During the meeting several scuffles broke out as Islamists in the audience insisted that Egypt should become an Islamic state and criticised liberal parties for calling for a secular state. At some point, Islamists booed the speakers because they referred to the Copts who were killed yesterday as martyrs, insisting that only Muslims can be made martyrs.
However, when Michael Mounir, a Coptic activist, took the stage, he asked all those who object to calling yesterday’s victims "martyrs" to raise their hands. He also condemned the government for failing to produce a unified building code after they had promised to do so in May. He also accused the military council of only using its power against Copts and not against law breakers and thugs.
“We need a national council to save Egypt,” Mounir said. “Because the military council is not neutral and they did not use their weapons against those who blocked the roads in Qena.”
Amin Iskander said a new council made up of both military and civilian members must be established, and insisted the Sharaf government resign immediately.
Other members of the conference insisted that a truth committee should investigate not just yesterday’s clashes but also previous incidents of sectarian tension, and insisted that the security crisis currently in Egypt is created "on purpose."
“What does it mean that the armed forces and minister of interior after seven months have still not been able to secure the country?” El-Hefnawy asked.
Abou El-Ghar focused on slamming Egyptian state TV for lying and inciting hatred by airing reports urging Muslims to protect the armed forces against so-called Coptic attacks, and for claiming that that Copts were burning Qurans in the streets.
Ismail suggested Egyptian State TV be temporarily stopped from airing news until it has been purged of members of the old regime and refrains from inciting hatred among the people. She also suggested today’s funeral for the Coptic martyrs should turn into a “popular Egyptian funeral,” and be used as a slap in the face for those who caused yesterday’s crisis.
Nour said the “partnership” between revolutionaries and SCAF is no longer valid after the army "spilled the blood" of Egyptians yesterday.
Sawiris, one of the last to address the crowd, said he wanted to create a delegation of Egyptian "wise men" to try and reason with “extremist forces” that have been fomenting sectarian tension in Egypt recently.
The meeting was expected to end with a joint statement, but the group announced that after drafting the statement, they could not reach consensus on its content, and, therefore, a new agreement will be issued.
The group did not make it clear which points in the aborted statement caused disagreement.