Egypt government fails to heal wounds of sectarian violence, analysts say

Ekram Ibrahim , Monday 17 Jan 2011

Analysts tell Ahram Online that the government's failure to respond decisively to the church attack has stirred Muslims and Copts to unite

Two fatal incidents in the first two weeks of 2011 - the Two Saints Church bombing in Alexandria and the Samalout train shooting - have lead to the Egyptian government losing more ground with both Muslims and Copts.

“The recent incidents left Egyptians even more angry at the government,” Diaa Rashwan, a researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Ahram Online.

In the aftermath of the Alexandria bombing, government officials maintained the line that it was an act of terrorism perpetrated by foreigners. “The government is on the defensive,” said the Wafd party's secretary general, Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour, to Ahram Online.

Rather than take any positive steps to help solve the sectarian tension felt in Egypt, the government has preferred to look the other way. “Denial was its only way,” Gamal Fahmy, a prominent political writer, told Ahram Online.

Moreover, while the country is the responsibility of the government, “the government did not bare any responsibility that what happened was because of its bad laws,” Fahmy added.

Instead, the Egyptian government has tried to take advantage of the attack. “The Alexandria bombing has given the government excuses to continue with the emergency law,” says Dina Shehata, a senior researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

While the government's response has been static, Egyptian society has witnessed several changes in reaction to the bloody events.

Copts, who view the government as their “adversary”, have became more politically active, protesting in the streets and clashing with state security immediately after the Alexandria bombing. “What I have seen in the Copts' protests is their anger, they will continue being politically involved as a result,” says Abdel Nour.

Meanwhile, Muslims have shown solidarity with Copts by protesting alongside them and acting as “human shields” during Coptic Christmas mass on January 6. “They are the ones who calmed the situation while the government kept watching,” Rashwan adds.

In addition to gestures of solidarity many Muslims, worried about the threat of terrorism in their country, sympathise with the position of Copts. “Many are ready to accept the issuing of laws that would give the Copts their rights and the government should have built on that general feeling,” Fahmy said.

Interestingly, opposition groups, political activists, rights activists and civil society have united together to press on the government to face and remedy sectarian tension in Egypt. “Their unity has given them strength and they have done a good job,” according to Fahmy. "The beam of light is in all of the change movements."

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