Egyptian figures condemn cathedral violence but disagree on causes

Ayat Al-Tawy, Monday 8 Apr 2013

Parties and figures across Egypt's political spectrum have condemned recent sectarian clashes, with some blaming the interior ministry and others foreign conspiracies

Egyptian figures condemn cathedral violence but disagree on causes
A man uses a bucket to put out a tear gas canister as Coptic Christians run inside the main cathedral in Cairo, while police fire tear gas during clashes with Muslims standing outside the cathedral April 7, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)


Religious institutions, political forces and public figures of all persuasions across Egypt have roundly condemned the recent spate of sectarian violence that hit the country over the past few days.

The United Council for Egyptian Churches (UNEC) condemned on Monday attacks on the headquarters of the Coptic Orthodox Church a day before.

The attack on the St Mark's Coptic Cathedral was "the first of its kind in history," said the UNEC in a Monday statement, describing the church as "a symbol of Christianity in Egypt, the Arab World and the Middle East."

Two people were killed and at least 90 injured on Sunday when unknown assailants attacked mourners outside the cathedral in Cairo where a funeral service was held for four Copts killed earlier Saturday in sectarian violence in Qalioubiya, north of Cairo.

For his part, Rev. Andrea Zaki, vice president of the Protestant Community in Egypt, rejected what he described as the use of Copts in the political manoeuvring of post-revolutionary Egypt.

"Security and political remedies are insufficient in such incidents," Egypt's state-run MENA news agency quoted Zaki as saying.

For years, Christians have complained of attacks on churches, incidents which further fuel their longstanding concerns about religious discrimination in the predominantly Muslim country.

Muslim leaders also condemned the violence, which comes as the country reels from two years of political unrest and post-revolution economic woes.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest and oldest Islamist group has called upon "patriotic figures, as well as religious and political institutions, to promptly intervene to end such strife."

The group reiterated its "warning to all Egyptians of conspiracies being organised against them, their country and their revolution to provoke sectarian strife in society."

Foreign elements

Ayman Nour, founder of the liberal Ghad El-Thawra party and a member of the Islamist-dominated Conscience Front, appeared to be of the same view.

Nour blamed the involvement of "foreign elements" in sparking sectarian strife in Egypt.

State news agency MENA quoted Nour as saying that "some political forces are further adding to the state of political polarisation in the country."

Nour also blamed the interior ministry for failing to secure the funeral of the slain Copts, urging President Morsi to work towards a "national reconciliation between all Egyptians, Muslim and Christians."

Intermittent clashes have been ongoing since last Friday when four Copts and one Muslim were killed during Muslim-Christian confrontations in Al-Khosous town in the northern governorate of Qalioubiya.

Friday's clashes erupted after a group of Christian teenagers reportedly painted offensive drawings on a wall of a Al-Azhar.

Brotherhood, interior ministry blamed

For its part, Egypt's largest opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front (NSF) has also laid responsibility for the sectarian violence on President Morsi and the interior ministry.

In a Monday statement, the NSF called for an independent, transparent probe into the incidents to identify instigators and those involved in the clashes that, it says, aim to spark strife across different areas of the country.

"The clashes – which came in the aftermath of the Al-Khosous violence and coincided with simmering popular anger at the Brotherhood's rule, their policies that further increase the poverty of Egyptians, and their quest to seize the country and all its institutions…appear to have been deliberate so as to distract Egyptians from the real enemy which will drive Egypt into an abyss," said a NSF statement on Monday.

The leftist-liberal Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP) echoed the condemnation of the interior ministry.

In a statement issued on Monday, the party has called for the dismissal of the interior minister, an overhaul of the ministry, as well as a probe into scattered reports over the minister's attempts to 'Brotherhoodise' the security apparatus.

The party also called for investigations into all the stances, policies and legal measures that contribute to provoking sectarian strife in the country, on top of which, according to the party, is allowing religious campaigning in elections.

"The conspiracy theory is not the reason behind attacks on the cathedral, as President Morsi alleges," Hanna Greis, a Coptic political activist and deputy head of the ESDP said in televised statements on Monday morning.

"Some particular individuals seek to achieve personal benefits by using devious methods."

According to Greis, there have been more sectarian incidents in recent days than during the past four decades. "The only change is the emergence of the Islamist currents, not conspiracies."

"From 1970 to 2011, Egypt saw 200 sectarian incidents under the rules of [presidents] Sadat and Mubarak. Since April 2011 to today, 24 churches have been attacked, one was set alight, one was knocked down, and 29 Coptic Christians were killed and 700 injured," he said.

Visiting European Union foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, also voiced fresh concerns in a statement on Sunday about the ongoing violence. She said she had contacted the president's office to call for self-restraint and urge security forces to control the violence.

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