After Sectarian Clashes, Egyptians Push For Unity
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
In Egypt, protesters this week set aside their grievances against the former Mubarak regime to push for national unity. They want to end a surge in inter-communal violence between the countrys Muslim majority and its Coptic Christian minority.
NPRs Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has more on the effort to calm sectarian tensions during this period of upheaval.
Mr. AMR KHALED (Preacher): (Foreign language spoken)
(Soundbite of people shouting)
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Egyptian television preacher Amr Khaled issued a stern warning in the packed mosque in this pastoral farming village far south of Cairo. For Gods sake, dont scandalize your fellow Egyptians, the Muslim cleric preached during Friday prayers in Sawl. He added all of Egypt will lose if residents let the conspiracy escalate.
The conspiracy hes referring to is the torching of a Coptic church here last Saturday. The church was attacked following a false report that a Christian boy who had an affair with a Muslim girl was hiding inside. The burning sparked protests nationwide and there were Christian-Muslim clashes that left more than a dozen people dead.
People here in Sawl, both Christians and Muslims, claim it was outsiders who attacked the church. Yesterday, they chanted slogans calling for unity.
(Soundbite of chants)
NELSON: Preacher Khaled agrees. He argues its folly for Egyptians to expect the government to solve their sectarian strife.
Mr. KHALED: Without coexistence, all of us will lose and we have to respect each other. And my message here today for Muslims and the Christians: Lets be one hand. Each one of the people here in Sawl have to do something, stop this problem in your house.
NELSON: That was the message religious leaders, some protest leaders and even Egypts military rulers are trying to get across.
In Cairo, the head of the ruling military council made a rare appearance among protestors at Tahrir Square after Friday prayers. Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi was joined by several other senior commanders, including Army General Hassan el-Roweni, who held a Koran in one hand and a cross in the other.
General HASSAN EL ROWENI (Commander, Central Region, Egypt): (Foreign language spoken)
(Soundbite of applause)
NELSON: Dont call yourselves Muslims or Christians, all of us are Egyptians, the general told protesters, who responded in kind.
(Soundbite of chanting protesters)
NELSON: But slogans and symbolism didnt appease Copts protesting at the nearby state television building. One was Bassam Khaled, who complains that fancy words cant replace the burned down church in Sawl.
Mr. BASSAM KHALED: We are coming here just to say it is a very great bad impression to all Coptic people here. You can't imagine how my church is completely collapsed, without doing anything, without following the people who did this. Why? Where is the punishment?
Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)
NELSON: Tensions were high in Sawl, too, where Egyptian soldiers and tanks were out in force and fights broke out near the mosque where TV preacher Amr Khaled spoke. He had planned a march with followers to the ruins of the church, reportedly to appeal to Muslim squatters who want to build a mosque there. But residents told visitors the area isnt safe and that the army wouldnt permit it.
Meanwhile, Egypts military rulers have pledged to rebuild the church, although when that will happen is unclear.
Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News.
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