Unity rally called for Cairo after clashes leave 13 dead


EGYPT:EGYPTIAN POLITICAL parties have called for a national unity rally tomorrow in Tahrir Square. The call followed fresh clashes which erupted between Christians and fundamentalist Muslims when a team from the prosecutor’s office arrived to inspect the scene of Tuesday night’s riot that killed 13.

The riot occurred in the poor working-class area of Moqattam below the citadel, a massive 12th-century fortress, when 2,000 Coptic Christians protesting against the burning of a church last week blocked a main north-south road carrying heavy traffic.

Drivers and residents of the neighbourhood attacked with rocks, rods and petrol bombs. Copts from the community of garbage recyclers responded until the army intervened. Houses, workshops and recycling facilities were burned. Six Christians and seven Muslims died from gunshot wounds and 94 were wounded, 73 Muslims and 21 Christians.

The Moqattam clashes coincided with sectarian skirmishes in central Cairo when Muslim hooligans invaded a sit-in demonstration by hundreds of Copts. This was in front of the television building a few hundred metres from Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the uprising that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak last month. They walked from the square where they had harassed women rallying against sexual discrimination.

Although the military council and the new government have promised to rebuild the church and prosecute those responsible, the Copts pressed their demands and called for an end to sectarian discrimination. They constitute a 10 per cent minority in Egypt’s population of 80 million

The Shahedain (Two Martyrs) church, in Sol, south of Cairo, was burned down over a feud between Coptic and Muslim families triggered by a romance between a Coptic man and a Muslim woman.

The latest violence has shattered a period of conciliation and co-operation between Christians and Muslims that followed the January bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria. Twenty-three people died and dozens were wounded when a bomber struck after a new year’s Mass. While no one admitted responsibility for the attack, it was blamed by the former regime on al-Qaeda. However, Copts taking part alongside Muslims in anti-regime demonstrations claimed the bombing of the church had been carried out by agents of the Mubarak regime’s internal security apparatus.

The objective of such attacks, allegedly, was to divide the communities to better rule them as well as demonstrate to the West that Egypt was threatened by al-Qaeda and other Muslim extremist groups and needed financial aid.

The accusations against regime agents are, reportedly, borne out by documents seized last weekend by demonstrators during raids on internal security offices.

Democracy activists blamed the latest clashes on remnants of the ousted regime who also attacked a small encampment of demonstrators who have pledged to remain in Tahrir Square until the goals of the uprising are achieved.

* Last night reformist Mohamed ElBaradei said on a privately owned TV channel that he intends to run for president in the election later this year. “When the door of presidential nominations opens, I intend to nominate myself,” he told ONTV channel. He also said he would vote against a constitutional amendments referendum on March 19th, saying that a new constitution was needed.