Primate pleads for prayers after Cairo violence

Gerald Butt reports on response to killing of Copts in last week's demonstrations in the Church Times 14 October 2011.

A CALL for “urgent prayers” for calm in Egypt has been issued by the President-Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, the Most Revd Mouneer Anis. He was speaking in the aftermath of one of the most serious outbreaks in recent times of sectarian-rooted violence in Cairo last Sunday night, in which 25 people — 21 of them Copts — were killed, and more than 300 were injured.

The violence erupted during a demonstration by several thousand Copts who were protesting at the burning down by Salafi ultra-conservative Islamists of a church at Mari Nab, in southern Egypt, and about the failure of the ruling mili­tary council to protect the country’s Christians. The demon­strators moved from Tahrir Square to the road in front of the state tele­vision station.

Military rulers in Egypt have ordered the interim government to carry out an investigation into what happened next, because reports are confused. The security forces say that shots were fired and Molotov cock­tails were thrown at them from the direction of the protesters. Witnesses then saw riot police open fire and drive their vehicles at the demon­strators. Copts say there was clearly an anti-Christian sentiment among many of the security per­sonnel.

Coptic leaders deny that any demonstrators opened fire at the police, insisting instead that people on nearby rooftops threw rocks and fired at both the marchers and the security services. Initial autopsies appear to corroborate theories that provocateurs had stirred up the trouble, and that the police had overreacted: many of the 21 Copts who died had been hit by rocks, or had been run over.

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