Hundreds of Christian Copts protested outside the State Television building Tuesday night, after a church was burned in the southern Aswan district, demanding that the governor be sacked.They were protesting against repeated attacks on Christian churches and their inability to build new places of worship.
The Copts have promised to escalate their protests against being treated, so they say, as second-rate citizens, while the Government takes no action to protect them from what they term Islamic ‘intolerance’.
“There is extreme intolerance in this country,” Father Rifaat Fikry Saeed told The Gazette. “This is exacerbated by the persistent weakness of our governments.”
Earlier this week, the Upper Egyptian Governorate of Aswan witnessed the latest showdown between the nation’s Muslims and Christians, when radical Muslims attacked a church under construction, claiming that the builders hadn’t been granted a licence for the work.
The ensuing battle resulted in the destruction of some of the pillars inside the church, while there were injuries on both sides.
The attack prompted hundreds of Christians to stage protests in various governorates, including Cairo, where around 2,000 Christians took to the streets.
They marched to the TV Building in the heart of the capital and planned an open-ended sit-in, similar to another one they launched last March, after another church was attacked in the village of Sol near Atfeeh, south of Helwan.
A few hours into the sit-in, however, the Christian demonstrators were surprised when military police surrounded them and asked them to leave, before forcing them to do so.
“Shit”, wrote one Twitter user, commenting on the dispersal of the Christian demonstrators. “What the Hell are these people doing? Christians are citizens too.”
Christians make up 10 per cent of Egypt’s 85-million population. They say they have been suffering restrictions in building their places of worship at a time when their Muslim compatriots are building as many mosques as they want.
A recent estimate puts the number of churches in Egypt at around 1,300. “This means that there is roughly one church for every 100,000 Christians,” said another priest, Father Saleeb Matta Sawiris. “This is totally unjust.”
Sectarian tensions are regrettable in a country which was home to a mosaic of faiths in the early decades of the 20th century. Repeated tensions, however, have come to shape Egypt’s image and even weaken its Christian citizens’ sense of belonging.
A recent report says that more than 93,000 Christians have left Egypt since Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February.