Egyptians march against sectarianism

Ayat Al-Tawy, Wednesday 10 Apr 2013

Hundreds march against sectarianism and call for unity between Muslims and Christians in Cairo on Tuesday

Cathedral March
Protesters en route to St. Mark's Coptic Cathedral, April 9, 2013 (Phoro: Mai Shaheen)

Hundreds of people marched in the Egyptian capital on Tuesday to condemn sectarianism and call for unity between Muslims and Christians.

The march began at Al-Fath Mosque in downtown Cairo and ended at St Mark's Cathedral, the headquarters of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, in the Abbasiya district.

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

It was one of the worst flare-ups of sectarian violence since the fall of Hosni Mubarak.

At Tuesday's protest, angry crowds condemned President Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's Islamist-led government, the Muslim Brotherhood and the interior ministry.

"The people want the downfall of the regime," the crowds chanted.

Some protesters held a copy of the Quran in one hand and a cross in the other.

Others chanted, "Cross and crescent are one, mosque and church are one."

"The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party hired thugs to attack the cathedral [on Sunday] with the help of the Central Security Forces," claimed Lilyan Saber of the Maspero Youth Movement.

Several political forces and public figures have blamed the interior ministry for the violence on Sunday, with some calling for the dismissal of Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim.

Karima El-Hefnawy, a leading member of the opposition National Salvation Front, attributed recent sectarian violence to the "inflammatory climate" which the Islamist-led government had allowed to grow.

"The regime is held responsible because of its silence about the rise of hard-line extremists who ignite strife and violence," El-Hefnawy alleged.

She added, "Any violence nowadays takes place at the hands of the Islamist groups' militias, namely the Brotherhood, who first shed blood outside the presidential palace [in December 2012]."

Egypt's Christian minority, around 10 percent of the population, has felt under increasing pressure following the electoral success of Islamist parties and Mohamed Morsi. Christians have long complained of discrimination, particularly in the fields of employment and law.

Sheikh Emad Taha of Al-Azhar condemned the attacks on the cathedral and said, "No nation is built by one faction."

Protesters carried the sheikh on their shoulders at one point during the march.

Egyptian Socialist Party Secretary-General Ahmed Bahaaeddin Shaaban said, "[The Brotherhood] seeks to spark internal strife in order to drain people's energy and distract them from standing up to authority. The Brotherhood is failing. It is sectarian and anti-democratic."

He went on to say there are now extremists in parliament and the cabinet.

"Egypt is witnessing the promotion of sectarianism and the rise of extremist groups," Shaaban added. "The decision to allow religious campaigning in elections will, I say, lead Egypt into civil war."

Omm Ali, a 52-year-old working-class woman, told Ahram Online she had attended the funeral service at the cathedral on Sunday.

"When they attacked us, I refused to leave. I phoned my husband and my kids to come and join us to protect the cathedral.

"Morsi's regime does not care about a cathedral or a mosque," she said, in reference to recent attacks on Al-Azhar Sheikdom after a mass food-poisoning incident which some claim was a Brotherhood plot to discredit Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayeb. "Morsi only cares about his people and clan."

"[The Brotherhood] seeks to provoke strife in order to tighten its grip on all state institutions," her 12-year-old son added before shouting "thugs" at a passing Central Security Forces vehicle.

Omm Abdel-Rahman, wearing a full Islamic face veil (typically worn by ultra-conservative Islamists), led chants calling for unity.

"There is no such thing as Muslim and Christian. We are all one hand," she said.

Actress and political activist Taysir Fahmy also joined the march.

"I am calling on all Egyptians to take to the streets to topple this regime which has sold the country," she said. "This is a terrorist regime that wants to intimidate people because they speak out. We don't want them. All their ploys have been unmasked."

A number of political parties and movements took part in the march, which was called for by the Egyptian Social Democratic Party. The participants included the Constitution Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance, the Revolutionary Socialists, the Free Egyptian Party, the Popular Current, the Maspero Youth Movement, Youth for Justice and Freedom, and the Women's Organisations Alliance.

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