Copts demonstrations (Photo:AP)
On the ninth day of the demonstration by Coptic Christians outside state television headquarters in Maspero, those still protesting were forcibly evacuated from the area by the army in the middle of the night.
“Military forces smashed the demonstration at 4AM, removed the metal wires surrounding the protesters and assaulted us using electric batons and fists,” Haytham Zaghloul, one of the demonstrators told Ahram Online.
The attack left 14 hospitalised with their injuries and incensed others. “We ask the Egyptian military leader Field Marshall Tantawi to apologize to the Copts and to pay the cost of the medical treatment of yesterday’s causalities,” Father Antonious, one of the leaders of the demonstration, told Ahram Online.
Meanwhile many Copts called for ending the demonstration after a representative group of activists met with Prime Minister Essam Sharaf on Sunday afternoon. “We have told him our demands, he asked for time to meet them and was cooperative,” said Hany Ramsis, a lawyer who was among those representing the Coptic demonstrators. The Cabinet was given until 25 March to meet their demands, otherwise they would demonstrate again.
The demonstration was calling for the rebuilding of the church in Soul, work on which began last Saturday. Other demands by demonstrators have also been met. Residents who were forced to leave their homes have returned to the area, the inital arson attack on the church is being investigated and Father Metawes, believed to have been imprisoned for political reasons, was released after serving more than three quarters of his sentence.
Sharaf, however, asked for time to open churches closed by state security and the demand for fair and balanced coverage on state television. With Muslim clerics being given an hour to talk about Islam, Copts have asked for a tenth of this air time to discuss Christianity.
Another call for ending the demonstration started on Saturday night after the military fulfilled its promise and commenced rebuilding the destroyed church. “Rebuilding the church is enough for me, I asked protesters to leave starting Saturday for their safety,” Father Angelious, who volunteers at the church in question, told Ahram Online.
The remaining demonstrators stayed either to clean the area or because they were yet to be convinced that their demands had been met. “I’m not convinced with what happened, I don’t agree that rebuilding the church comes after Shiekh Mohamed Hassan agrees, I need a constitution that says so,” said Nabil Gobrial, lawyer who was among the protesters
Since Mubarak stepped down, as well as the church attack in Soul, a priest was murdered in his house in Assiut and clashes have erupted between Copts and Muslims. This has reignited the spectre of sectarian tension in Egypt.