Sectarian Violence endangers national unity in Egypt

An upsurge in sectarian violence is haunting Egyptian society Photo: Christians and Muslims in Egypt

CAIRO, April 15, 2013 - What happened on Friday April 7th, 2013 in a small city called El Khousos, north of Cairo, can only be described as nightmarish. It was similar to other recurring incidents in Egypt, which trigger hate and violence and result in death.

The story began when some Christian children painted provocative graffiti on the wall of an Islamic religious institute. This prompted an altercation with Muslim residents, which escalated into street battles leaving one Muslim and four Coptic Christians dead. Eyewitnesses of the area were confused about the actual cause of such tragic incidents.

Meanwhile, sectarian tension continued elsewhere. The Sunday after that incident, mourners were leaving the funeral of the fjour Christians at St. Mark’s Cathedral, the largest Cathedral in Egypt in the centre of Cairo, and a mob suddenly started throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. The Christian mourners responded  by throwing objects at the mob, and the violence escalated. Police fired tear gas to dispense the groups. Two were killed and more than 80 were injured, according to the state news agencies. The mourners who were besieged inside the Cathedral chanted slogans against the President and the government.

Government officials including Sheikh Al Azhar and Pope Tawadrous II of the Coptic Christian Church, together with several politicians, held discussions on ways to stop the renewed of clashes.

The lack of security and the abundance of weapons, however, contributes to such tragic incidents. Ann Patterson US Ambassador to Egypt said that “it was the responsibility of the state to protect all of its citizens.”

Human Rights Watch had criticized sharply Egyptian law for prohibiting the renovation of Churches without a presidential decree after a sectarian incident in May 2011 which left 12 dead and 52 injured, and saw two churches burned to the ground.

Meanwhile, Article 43 of the new Egyptian Constitution recognizes the rights of Christians to have their own places of worship, but the government has yet to repeal the earlier discriminatory law which prohibits the renovation of churches without a presidential decree.

According to Naguib Gabril, Head of the Egyptian Human Rights Federation, the sectarian violence endangers the structure of Egyptian population, as approximately 20% of Egyptians are Coptic Christians. The situation inside Egypt appears to be pushing Copts out of Egypt, which the number of Christian immigrants potentially reaching 250,000 annually.

Despite the stress of The Freedom and Justice Party, the ruling Islamic Party, Christians have equal rights as other Egyptian citizens. However, fear haunts the future of young Copts. Adel Fahmy, a 22 years old student said, “My plan is to leave Egypt; I don’t feel I belong here anymore.”

On Tuesday April 9th, 2013, a diverse group of political parties, including Muslim parties and secular parties, marched from Tahrir square to St. Mark Cathedral to denounce sectarian violence. A protestor was holding the Quran and the Cross as hundreds of demonstrators chanted in support of the National Unity of Egypt.

Every loyal Egyptian believes that time has come for clerics both Muslims and Christians to focus on the common message of love that is supposed to be central to all religions. Preaching a positive message based on harmony and love can heal the wounds of the country. 

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Anwaar Abdalla

Anwaar Abadallah Khalik Ibrahim has her Ph.D. from Ain Shams University (1999, first degree honour) and currently lectures on Civilization and Cultural Affairs for Helwan University.  Dr. Abdalla Kahlik Ibrahim also works as an official coordinator for the cultural exchange program between Helwan Uni and TSU in the USA entitled “Cultural Immersion 2011-2014.”

Additionally, Ms. Abdallah is a member of the Egyptian and Arab women’s writer’s union and the Cairo Women Association.  She is also the translator of several books published by the Ministry of Culture including Shadows on the Grass, Impossible Peace and The Secret Rapture. Dr. Ibrahim is also an accomplished author and essayist in both Arabic and English publications. 


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