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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And now we turn to Steve Inskeep in Cairo.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Christians and others in Egypt are holding demonstrations today. They're protesting the burning of church in a village called Soul. It was part of a series of incidents that started with a romance and turned deadly. The story says a lot about Egypt in these uncertain times. So let's start at the beginning.

Father Apollo Isaac says a Christian boy in the village outside Cairo was caught with a Muslim girl.

Father APOLLO ISAAC (Coptic Priest): (Foreign language spoken) The village culture forbids that kind of relationship to happen.

INSKEEP: Village elders decided last week that the Muslim girl should be killed. Her father refused. Soon, he was killed. The conflict escalated. Muslims blamed Christians for the tragedy and burned down Father Apollo's church in Soul.

Unidentified Group: (Chanting in foreign language)

Unidentified Man: (Chanting in foreign language)

Unidentified Group: (Chanting in foreign language)

INSKEEP: For a week now, Christians have been waving crosses and shouting at a continuous protest here in the center of Cairo. Their story has meshed with the wider anxiety over Egypt's future.

An activist named Fady Philip has shouted himself hoarse.

Mr. FADY PHILIP: This is basically for the church, but it's including all of the Christians' requests for everything. It starts with the church, but it doesn't end with the church. You got it?

INSKEEP: Christians have historically faced discrimination here. The Christian minority joined the protest against President Hosni Mubarak. But when Mubarak left and the army proposed changing the constitution, nobody touched the article declaring Islam to be the religion of the state. Christians often feel like second-class citizens, though many Muslims do support them now, like the Muslim who showed up at the protest, declaring the two religions friends.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken) Friends, Christian, Islam.

INSKEEP: A leading Muslim scholar has also denounced the church burning, and the army promised to rebuild the church. Yet tensions increased in recent days. People from a largely Christian neighborhood staged a demonstration. Muslims confronted them. Soldiers appeared. Someone opened fire. It was one of several clashes around the city that killed at least 13 people and wounded many more from both religions. Last night came a memorial service for many of the Christian dead.

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

INSKEEP: A Coptic Christian priest spoke to a crowd of thousands, including the families of many victims. The pains of this life, he told the families, are nothing compared to the glorious state we will be in in the afterlife.

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

INSKEEP: The priest was speaking in a room that symbolizes Egypt's Christian minority. The room was vast, and it was underground. It's a hillside cave that's been turned into a meeting hall, with relief sculptures of saints carved on the walls. At the entrance to that cave, we spoke with a crowd of people who illustrate the dilemma of Christians in Egypt.

Are you concerned that the new government may not respect your rights?

Unidentified Man #3: (Foreign language spoken)

INSKEEP: A black-clad priest named Father Abraham Femy said he will rely on God to look after him. Muslims are our brothers, he said. Father Femy added that during Tuesday's violence, he himself restrained a Christian who tried to take revenge on a Muslim. Others in the crowd grew angry, saying they were attacked on Tuesday night

Unidentified Man #4: The army kill us. The army kill us. Believe me. The army kill us.

INSKEEP: Christians in this crowd suspect that soldiers actually were the ones who opened fire on them.

We're holding bullets here. I'm holding a bullet that you've just given me.

A man claimed they were discarded after they jammed in a soldier's gun. Another Christian named Magdi was philosophical. He says Egyptians are just beginning to figure out how to relate to one another in a freer time.

MAGDI: (Through translator) We are all ignorant when it comes to politics, because over the last 40 or 50 years, we were just trying to find money to get bread and food. So when it comes to politics, the country is a pure newborn.

INSKEEP: Today, Egyptians are putting that newborn freedom to the test, calling for marches against religious violence. They hope to put an end to the events that started at the church in the village called Soul.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Steve Inskeep, in Cairo. And we'll be hearing him from the region all next week.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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