Why did Egypt's Army violently suppress Christian protesters? (VIDEO)
Egypt's Army fired Sunday on thousands of Christian protesters demonstrating against a recent church burning, leaving at least 24 people dead. Some say the Army is provoking sectarian violence as a pretext for staying in power.
(Page 2 of 3)
Many of the casualties were taken to the Coptic Hospital, whose small, stiflingly hot morgue was overwhelmed by the 17 bodies it received. Family members screamed and beat themselves with grief as they identified their sons, fathers, brothers, and fiances among the dead. Some had been killed by gunshot wounds, and others appeared to be crushed by vehicles.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Multiple people there, including Mr. Zakie, described Army armored personnel carriers aiming for protesters, and said demonstrators were peaceful when the Army attacked. Zakie was limping from being hit by a vehicle.
Upstairs in a hospital bed, Yousef Gamal pulled back a bandage to show the bullet hole that pierced his thigh. He said the armored vehicles drove into the demonstrators and began shooting as soon as they entered the square. “They are the ones who are supposed to protect us,” he said of the Army. “But instead they are the ones who are killing us. I feel like I’m done with this country.”
But perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the events is the level to which they succeeded in inciting Muslims against Christians, says Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, which has tracked sectarian incidents for a decade. Unlike the outpouring of Muslim sympathy when a Christian church was bombed at the beginning of this year, he says, now there is little sympathy. “There are either calls for unity, or there is blame for Christians for having started this violence and for having attacked the Army,” he says.
“And," he adds, "we must blame state media here.”
State TV's report differed from ground reports
As the Army was running over and shooting protesters, Egyptians watching state television heard an entirely different story. The channel reported that armed Christians were attacking the Army, and broadcast appeals for Muslims to go to the street to defend the Army.
“So it is no coincidence or surprise that large sectors of the Muslim majority feel that what happened was the Christians' fault and continue to blame Christians for what happened,” he says. “And that adds more anger and resentment and estrangement for the Coptic community and especially the Coptic youth,” a scenario that does not bode well for Egypt’s future.
Hundreds of people responded to the incitement and went out to the streets armed with sticks and sometimes knives, and attacked Christians. Around 10 p.m., hundreds of youths holding sticks marched toward the Coptic Hospital, chanting “Islamic, Islamic.” When they neared the hospital, they clashed with the mostly Christian men in front of the hospital.
Several gunshots rang out, and the two sides fought with rocks and Molotov cocktails for two hours with police and Army nowhere in sight. Cars and garbage containers were set alight, blazing high into the night sky as Coptic youths called their friends and asked them to bring reinforcements. One Christian youth siphoned gasoline from the tank of car parked on the street to use for Molotov cocktails. “They want us to be Muslim but we won’t leave our country," he said. “This is a civil war,” said another who gave his name as Emad.