Clashes erupt at Al-Azhar ahead of solidarity march

Ahram Online, Friday 14 Oct 2011

Demonstrators taking part in march to protest the violence in Maspero last Sunday are themselves attacked at Al-Azhar

As Friday prayers came to an end in central Cairo's Al-Azhar mosque, people gathered outside for the peaceful march to Abbassiya Cathedral were attacked by people coming out of the mosque.

An Ahram Online reporter at the scene said a group of demonstrators outside the mosque began chanting against the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and its leader, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.

The scene descended into rock throwing a few minutes into the chants. The mix became more volatile when people who had been praying inside the mosque came out at the end of the Friday prayers.

According to our correspondent, the preacher's sermon during the prayers served to foster divisions by focusing on Muslims who died in Sunday's Maspero clashes and omitting to criticise the military council or the government for the violence on Sunday night. As a consequence as members of the congregation left the mosque, they accused the demonstrators outside of variously being affiliated with the former regime and foreign agents. They also began chanting "The army and the people are one hand," a popular revolution chant which referenced the public's faith in the military junta.

The first group of demonstrators responded by chanting "Muslims and Christians are one hand."

The two groups threw rocks at each other, divided by their attitude towards the military council, causing chaos in the street. 

Commenting on this latest episode of violence on protesters in Egypt, activist and journalist Hossam El-Hamalway told Ahram Online that "The violence today is a direct result of the incitement by the Egyptian army, state TV and the religious establishment.

"It is of course a concern," he added, "but still I see there are signs of unity among others in several incidents that give me hope."

Despite this start, the march did set off with around 200 people heading from Al-Azhar for Abbassiya Cathedral. The demonstrators were escorted by armed policemen.

Along the way, our correspondent reports that chants proclaiming unity between Egypt's Muslims and Christians drew scorn from people watching on.

The march grew in numbers when another on heading, which left from Shubra, joined it as the two neared Abbassiya.

After reaching the cathedral, the march carried on to Tahrir Square.

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