10/12/2011, 00.00
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Egypt under shock by brutal anti-Coptic attack as calls for the govt to resign mount

by André Mounir Azzam
The Finance minister quits calling on the military to own up to its responsibilities. State TV is accused of inciting anti-Christian attack by broadcasting false news. Eyewitnesses say they saw the bodies of people crushed by army armoured vehicles in Sunday’s clashes. Intellectuals and religious leaders express concern over the atmosphere of repression that threatens the country’s future.
Cairo (AsiaNews) – Streets in Cairo and other Egyptian cities saw many Christian women wearing black in a sign of mourning and protest against Sunday’s brutal killing of 25 Coptic demonstrators during clashes with the security forces. In recent days, many have criticised the ruling Supreme Military Council for its inability to govern and its role in instigating communal violence between Christians and Muslims. Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi quit over the matter, saying the government has failed to guarantee security in the country and that it should own up to its mistakes and apologise to the people.

After nine months of transitional government and a few weeks before parliamentary elections, many Egyptians wonder about the direction the country is taking, whether the Supreme Council is encouraging fundamentalist groups and whether investigations into the various incidents are actually conducted correctly. Every Egyptian senses that the country is going back. After the recent violence in Tahrir Square, people are losing hope in the future.

Before last Sunday’s tragic events, a great woman journalist, Farida al Shubashy, wrote in an article that the Nazi spirit is alive now in Egypt. Like Hitler, who wanted to exterminate the Jews, fundamentalists and Salafists now want to exterminate the Copts. Yesterday, the great writer Alaa al Asswany, well known for his famous book "Yacoubain Building", penned an editorial in which he denounced the Wind of Fascism that is sweeping across Egypt.

An example of this atmosphere of repression is the constant broadcasting of false and misleading news on official media. During the demonstration by Copts in front of the Maspero television building, the Channel 1 state TV said that Christians had killed three soldiers and urged Egyptians to take to the streets to save the military from attacks. First, TV officials denied any responsibility in what followed, then said that one soldier had died, blaming a stressed out journalist for the error. However, since they refused to name the soldier, no one believes that there were casualties.

This has had terrible results. An unveiled Muslim woman was chased and savagely beaten by a group of people because they thought she was Christian. Dozens of cars parked in front of Cairo’s Coptic Hospital that had crosses and other Christian symbols inside were torched.

But the disinformation does not end there. Claims that security forces were stoned, provoking the military into overreacting, also proved false. Eyewitnesses said in fact that gangs of thugs threw bricks and stones in order to sow confusion in the crowd of demonstrators.

Copts had organised the peaceful rally to demand the resignation of the governor of Aswan after a church had been torched in a village under his jurisdiction. A number of Muslims had joined the protest and remained until the army moved in with armoured vehicles. In the ensuing melee, several protesters were run over. Eyewitnesses recounted that some bodies were so badly crushed that they were unrecognizable.

In one case, a priest left the square holding a bag containing the crushed head of a young man called Peter, asking people how he could deliver it to the family. A forensic expert at the state morgue said that he never saw so many bodies in such a bad state, worse than those of the victims of the Luxor massacre in the late 1990s.

In order to shed light on the events and promote a transparent investigation, Grand Imam Ahmed al Tayeb, sheikh of Al Azhar, the highest authority of Sunni Islam, organised a meeting with Christian bishops, high Muslim clerics, legal experts, and human rights activists.

Now everybody wants to know who gave the order to fire. They want to know why nothing was done when fundamentalists stopped trains for ten days in Upper Egypt, paralysing this vital transportation route. Why was there such a violent reaction to a peaceful demonstration? Why was no one arrested for burning the Saint-George Church in the village of Marinab, near Edfu, in Aswan governorate.

Many in the media and the legal profession want the resignation of Aswan’s governor, a former army general, because of his failure to solve the situation and because he openly lied about the incident when he said that a hall and not a church was involved and had accused Copts of cheating on their application for a permit to fix the building and that young Muslims simply wanted to re-establish the status quo ante.

In fact, the Saint George Church has been in existence in the village for the past 80 years, and was in need of repair. All the permits authorising the work had been properly approved by the appropriate governatorate authority.

Now moderate Muslims are afraid and shocked by events involving the military and Islamic extremists. An important Muslim attorney called on "the great and true Church of Egypt" to publish a stronger communiqué than the one released yesterday, which was read by Amba Yoannes, Auxiliary Bishop to Pope Shenuda.

On Monday, a large number of Muslims joined Christian mourners in Cairo’s cathedral for the solemn funeral of Sunday’s victims. However, the show of unity was marred by Muslim fundamentalists. Mina, a Christian woman who died during the clashes, said she wanted her funeral procession to start in Tahrir Square. This proved impossible because the funeral cortege was attacked by fundamentalists, forcing people to change route.

This has further shocked Egyptians who despite their differences traditionally show respect for the dead.
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