Arab Spring Becomes Terrible Autumn
Egyptian Bloodshed Darkens Horizon
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By Robert Cheaib
ROME, OCT. 11, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Until Sunday, shining in the eyes of youth was the image of Egyptians -- Muslims and Christians -- united in a whimper that became a cry, which awakened the noblest desires: the desire for liberty and justice and the hope for a better future.
Until Sunday, because the image of armored vehicles crushing paralyzed protesters drowned the dream and opened eyes to a sight that clouds the horizon of the Arab Spring. The dream -- whose protagonists were Muslims and Christians of Egypt gathered as one people in Al Tahir Square -- faded with the outbreak of violence and became a nightmare with an unpredictable future.
A peaceful protest ended with scenes of unheard of violence described in the Saudi newspaper Al-Hayat as "the most bloody event since the revolution of 'Jan. 25,' which led to the fall of Hosni Mubarak's dictatorship." According to the Egyptian Ministry of Health, there are 24 dead and 212 wounded.
It all began last Sunday with a peaceful protest by Coptic Christians, upset over the recent attack on a church in Assuan, in southern Egypt. The protesters deplored the silence of the authorities regarding what happened. The Copts were calling for the resignation of the governor of the province, Mustafa As-Sayyed, accusing him of having caused the attack. As-Sayyed said -- as confirmed by the newspaper Tariq Al-Akhbar -- that the church was illegal, inasmuch as the building had been transformed into a church by manipulating the authorizations. The extremists took note of these statements and set fire to the place of Christian worship.
The day after the attack, instead of condemning it, As-Sayyed said that "there has been no attack because there are no churches in Assuan," as reported on the Christian Web site Coptreal. Such statements sparked Coptic indignation, which led to Sunday's protest that began in the Shabra neighborhood and marched to the headquarters of the national television, appealing for state protection for places of Christian worship and equality of rights for all citizens. The protesters also called for the resignation of As-Sayyed, accusing him of sympathizing with the Muslim extremists. The crowd, made up not only of Christians but also Muslims who support their rights, also deplored the line adopted by state television to awaken anti-Christian feelings.
During the protest, some vandals threw stones and fired at the crowd. The Copts responded by throwing stones in turn. At that moment, security forces and the army intervened violently repressing the protesters with armored vehicles. Coptic priest Father Daoud said he saw a tank roll over five protesters.
The situation degenerated into total chaos, the army and police began to throw tear gas and rubber balls at the protesters, who then threw anything within their reach in response. State television reported that the protesters set some police cars on fire.
The army and police intensified their presence and imposed a curfew beginning Monday morning.
France Press reported on the situation of the wounded and dead in Cairo's Coptic hospital, stating that some of the corpses were completely disfigured and unrecognizable.
Al-Hayat reported that that night a group of peaceful Muslims marched to the Coptic hospital raising signs and crying out: "Christians and Muslims, just one hand," and deploring what happened.
Reaction of the Coptic Church
In a communiqué to ZENIT, the Council of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of Egypt commented on the lamentable events, and exhorted the military council and the Egyptian government "to assume its national responsibilities and manage the present situation, guarding justice and protecting the dignity of all citizens without discrimination."
The Egyptian Catholic prelates also affirmed that the Catholic Church in Egypt "raises her prayers to God to protect Egypt and its people" and assures her prayers for the victims of the latest episodes of violence.
Egypt has been the scene of growing interreligious tensions in recent months. A number of Christian churches have been the target of terrorist attacks.
The new Egyptian authorities have tried to change some discriminatory laws that placed severe restrictions on the construction of Christian places of worship, but these laws are faced with great opposition by fundamentalist currents that aspire to presidential power in this November's elections.