Copts continue sit-in until government and army meet their demands

Dina Samak , Tuesday 8 Mar 2011

For the fourth day in a row, the sit-in outside the state television building in Cairo continues, contrary to news reports, with protesters demanding justice and freedom of worship

Coptic woman hoisting a copy of the bible, as Christians and their Muslim supporters, (including the veiled young women in the picture) demonstrate in front of the Egyptian Television building demanding equal rights for Egyptian Copts (Photo: Reuters)

For the Coptic protesters gathered before the state TV building in the center of Cairo, nothing has changed after yesterday’s visit by the prime minister. "The regime insists on dealing with the Copts the same way it used to for decades, but this is not accepted anymore," says Ayman Wisa, one of the protesters. "State television said that we (the protesters) went home, and that Father Metias announced that the sit-in was over, but this is not true and this kind of propaganda is no longer acceptable."

Wisa, who says that it is the first time for him to participate in any protest, is not an exception. Many of those who took part the sit-in over the past four days, after a church was set on fire on the outskirts of Helwan, feel that both the new government and the Army have as yet not met their demands.

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf met with the demonstrators yesterday and discussed their demands including the sacking of Helwan's governor. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces promised a day earlier that the church will be rebuilt in its original site before Easter. However, these promises have not quelled the protesters’ anger. 

Nabil Samir, who came to Cairo from Zagazig to join the-sit two days ago, says that the army promised to send a battalion Tuesday morning to the village of Soul to make sure that the Christians who were forced to evacuate the village are able to return to their homes. "This would have been at least a sign that the army is ready to take action and protect the Copts," says Samir, "however, until now nothing has happened and we hear from the village that the situation on the ground is still the same." 

The protesters had declared their demands from the beginning of the sit-in.  These include allowing Christians to pray on the site of destroyed church, even in a tent, until the new church has been rebuilt. The protesters are also calling for the secure return of hundreds of Copts who were forcibly displaced from the village. Apparently the government has so far failed to fulfil any of these demands. 

Father Metias Nasr, who was quoted by state television on Monday night saying that the sit-in has ended, says that his words were deliberately twisted. He had told the protesters he will go with the Army to Soul to make sure that the government’s promises are implemented, and that the Army prevents any abuse against the village’s Christians. Only if this happens, says the priest of St. Mary's Church in Ezbet el Nakhl, can he ask the protesters to go home.

"The old regime is still in charge," says the priest, "and the least the government can do is prosecute the perpetrators and inciters of the church attack to prove that they are taking the demands of Copts seriously."

These demands have the support of many Muslim activists who are not only participating in the Coptic sit-in before the TV building, but have also called for a million-man march next Friday in solidarity with the Copts, and in defense of what they describe as the unity of the nation's fabric.

Both Muslims and Christians seem to agree that what happened in Soul and similar incidents that took place under Mubarak's rule, were not tackled properly by the government. What the government is ready to give to the Copts is yet to be seen, especially when at the same time Salafists are protesting outside the cabinet office against the church and demanding the release of Kamelia Shehata, the wife of a priest alleged to have converted to Islam.

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