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Egypt's Copts ever more wary after deadly clash with Muslims

After a Christian protest in Cairo turned violent Tuesday, many Christians worry they will be even more marginalized in revolutionary Egypt.

By Correspondent / March 9, 2011

In this photo taken Tuesday, March 8, Egyptian Copts carry a cross, a picture showing saints along a banner in Arabic that reads 'God is our shelter and strength, he will help us in hard times,' during a protest in downtown Cairo, Egypt.

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Cairo

Deadly fighting Tuesday between Christians and Muslims in Cairo killed at least 13 people and wounded 140, deepening sectarian tensions and raising many concerns among Christians about their place in the new Egypt.

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The violence erupted during a protest in the Manshiyet Nasr slum, a community of mostly poor Christians who work as garbage collectors. About 1,000 Christians were blocking a road to demand that the government rebuild a Christian church outside Cairo that was destroyed last Friday by Muslims.

Not long after the demonstration began, Christian eyewitnesses say they were set upon by hundreds of Muslims who used Molotov cocktails, sticks, and knives to attack the rally. But residents of a nearby by Muslim neighborhood said the Christians struck first.

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Ashraf Ramzy, a Christian whose head was bandaged after the fighting, described being terrified because, he says, the Army did not intervene. Mr. Ramzy said the crowd pulled him from his vehicle, beat him, and set his car on fire.

“[Muslims] were standing behind the Army, and chanting ‘the Army and the people are one,’ ” a common chant during Egypt’s revolution, he said. “Are we not people?”

Egypt’s revolution was not led by Islamists, and was characterized by a remarkable show of unity and solidarity between Egyptians of different backgrounds. But some Christians, who have long lived with discrimination and injustice, worry that the limited freedoms they have now will be further marginalized by the majority Muslim population.

"We as Christians are worse off after the revolution," said Mina Magdy, a young Christian. "Look at what's happening to us. Mubarak was bad, but now it's worse. The Army isn't doing anything to protect us."

Attacks on Copts increase

The recent rise in tension came after a Muslim mob burned a church in the village of Sul, south of Cairo. They were reportedly angered by an affair involving a Christian man and Muslim woman that had turned into a deadly family dispute.

These kinds of attacks on Christians have increased in recent years. Under the regime of former president Hosni Mubarak, the government refused to acknowledge sectarian-motivated violence against Christians. Justice was routinely denied and perpetrators often escaped prosecution or received light sentences.

Since Sunday, thousands of Copts have been demonstrating in front of Cairo's state television building to protest the church burning. In addition to asking the government to rebuild the church, they are seeking protection for Copts who return to the village after fleeing last week's attack. They also want those responsible for destroying the church to be held accountable.

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