Magazine article The Christian Century

Clashes and Coalitions

Magazine article The Christian Century

Clashes and Coalitions

Article excerpt

ON MARCH 11, the one-month anniversary of Hosni Mubarak's resignation, thousands of Egyptians took to the streets to celebrate national unity and condemn sectarianism. The marchers held banners reading "Muslims and Christians are one." Hundreds of people held up crosses and copies of the Qur'an, chanting "Christians and Muslims are one hand."

Yet just days earlier, a church was burned south of Cairo and clashes between Christians and Muslims left 13 dead and over 140 injured in an impoverished Cairo suburb.

What is going on?

As is often the case within outbreaks of religious violence, the immediate reasons are complex and local. A conflict had been brewing for months in the village of Sol in Etfeeh after it was discovered that a Christian man had fallen in love with a Muslim woman. To clear the Muslim family's name, a cousin in the family murdered the Muslim woman's father, which led to the woman's brother (the son of the murdered father) avenging the death of his father by killing his cousin. During the emotional funeral, some Muslims who blamed Christians for the murders were incited to attack a nearby church. The church was torched and some Christians fled their homes in fear.

On March 7, Coptic Christians from the Manshiyet Nasr neighborhood in Cairo, a predominantly Christian area that is home to the city's garbage collectors, took to the streets to protest the burning of the Sol village church. Some one thousand young Copts blocked two main roads, bringing traffic on the east side of Cairo to a halt for two hours. Even though their priest, knowing the potential for conflict, begged them to stop, the men continued, burning tires and throwing rocks at passing cam When they were confronted by Muslims, violent clashes erupted. Molotov cocktails and stones were thrown at each other throughout the night before the army was able to calm the situation.

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A priest in the area said that this clash was not a conflict between Muslims and Christians of the area. "The attack was organized and [involved] guns, Muslim residents [here] don't have weapons," His comments reflect the widespread view that the sectarian clashes are being orchestrated by pro-Mubarak members of the State Security and by members of Mubarak's National Democratic Party who aim to foster chaos and therefore lead to the triumph of Mubarak's party in coming elections.

In a sermon delivered in Tahrir Square on March 11, Sheikh Muzhir Shahin warned that some people desire "to incite sectarian tensions and waste the gains of the revolution. …

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