Thousands of mostly Muslim protesters swelled through the streets of the Egyptian city of Qena on Friday to demonstrate against the recent appointment of a new Coptic Christian governor.
Crowds gathered Immediately after prayers outside the city’s mosques, chanting against Gov. Emad Mikhael and Prime Minister Essam Sharaf: “Oh Sharaf, say the truth … you’re being unfair to us or not?” and “Oh freedom where are you … Mikhael is standing between us and you.”
Mikhael, a police general who served under former President Hosni Mubarak, is the only Copt among 18 new governors named by Sharaf on April 14. The decision was met by anger and exasperation from the city’s Islamic extremists and ultra-conservative Salafi groups.
Protests broke out the day after Mikhael’s appointment, but they have intensified in recent days as demonstrators blocked the railway road connecting Qena with Cairo, about 300 miles to the north, as well as several other main highways.
Copts had joined the protests in the early days of the protests because of Mikhael’s connection to the former Mubarak regime. Mikhael had been appointed a police general by former Interior Minister Habib Adli, who is currently on trial for corruption charges and is allegedly responsible for giving orders to shoot protesters during the Jan. 25 national uprising.
But the demonstrations took on sectarian tones when conservative and extremist Islamists, who are vehemently opposed to a Coptic governor, increased their numbers amid the ranks of protesters. Government officials, including Interior and Local Development ministers as well as a number of Muslim clerics, visited Qena in an attempt to calm passions.
“The governor of Qena has not and will not resign and there are no alternatives. Objections based on his religion are unacceptable,” Cabinet spokesman Ahmed Al Saman said Wednesday. A day later, Sharaf expressed a willingness to visit Qena and listen to protesters’ demands when he returns next week from a tour in a number of Persian Gulf states.