EGYPT

Eyewitness describes deadly clashes in Cairo: “The security forces were heartless”

 Violent clashes between Coptic Christians and security forces in Cairo Sunday left 24 people dead and more than 200 wounded. Our Observer, a Muslim bystander who witnessed the events, was shocked by the military’s behaviour.

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Violent clashes between Coptic Christians and security forces in Cairo Sunday left 24 people dead and more than 200 wounded. Our Observer, a Muslim bystander who witnessed the events, was shocked by the military’s behaviour.

 

Sectarian tensions between Muslims, who make up the majority of Egyptians, and Copts, who make up just 10 percent, are nothing new. However many hoped they would improve with Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. That has not proven to be the case – tensions have in fact grown in the security vacuum since the regime fell in February.

 

In the past few weeks, church attacks in the south of the country have sparked outrage among Copts. On Sunday thousands of Copts, but also some Muslims, decided to march on the state’s television station, which they accuse of stoking anti-Christian sentiment.

 

Demonstrators said they were first attacked by men in plain clothes, before clashing with security forces.

 

Video posted to YouTube by amrbassiouny

 

Video posted to YouTube by lilianwagdy

 

Local television footage shows armoured military vehicles driving into the crowd of protesters, apparently trying to run people over intentionally. This scene was reminiscent of several similar incidents during the Egyptian revolution.

 

Egypt’s Prime Minister Essam Sharaf appealed for calm in a television address late Sunday. “The most serious threat to the country’s security is tampering with national unity, and the stirring of discord between Muslim and Christians sons of Egypt,” he said. Egypt’s military council has called for a swift investigation.

“The armoured vehicles sped through the crowds and ran over a lot of people”

Khaled Hamdy lives in Cairo. He is a Muslim.

 

I was on my way home when I happened upon the protest. I saw soldiers all over the place, so I went to see what was going on. People were just standing there, peacefully. They had candles, crosses, pictures of Jesus. Then many more Coptic protesters, who were taking part in a march, came and joined them.

 

I don’t know who started it. I saw a plastic bottle flying through the air toward the soldiers. Then I heard the sound of bullets being fired. Many people started running, others clashed with the soldiers.

 

There were two armoured vehicles parked nearby. Suddenly they started up and drove through the crowd, trying to scatter people. By that time I had run up onto a bridge, so I saw everything from there. The drivers were heartless. They sped through the crowds and ran over a lot of people. This lasted for ten, maybe fifteen minutes. I saw a group of people holding a body, shouting that he was dead. Later I saw someone set fire to one of the vehicles.

 

“The soldiers just wanted to hit people”

 

The soldiers chased us over the bridge. They didn’t seem to differentiate between Muslims and Copts; they just wanted to hit people. I saw people throwing stones at the soldiers, and the soldiers throwing stones back at them and hitting them with batons.

 

I arrived there at 6pm and left around 8pm. At home, I went online and saw videos of the Copts that had been taken to the hospital, some of them dead. It was terrifying.

 

I don’t know what spark set this all off. But from what I did see - and what I’m completely convinced of - is that in the beginning, before the soldiers became brutal, the Copts were protesting peacefully.

 

Recently, the military has been very harsh with all sorts of protesters. I have seen this myself when I protested against military tribunals, as well as for a quicker transfer of power. They’re out of hand. It seems like history is just repeating itself in Egypt.”