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After Deadly Clashes, Egypt's Christians On Edge

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After Deadly Clashes, Egypt's Christians On Edge

Middle East

After Deadly Clashes, Egypt's Christians On Edge

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

In Egypt, the army is guarding two Christian churches that were burned over the weekend. At least a dozen people were killed and hundreds injured in violence between Coptic Christians and Muslims. The Copts make up about 10 percent of the country's population. And many say they feel more vulnerable since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in February.

NPR's Martin Kaste sent this story from Cairo.

MARTIN KASTE: In the neighborhood of Imbaba, the mood is ugly.

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

KASTE: Outside a police station, an angry crowd of Coptic Christians. They're identifiable in part by the small crucifixes some have tattooed on their hands and wrists. On Sunday, some of them were also freshly bandaged after Saturday night's violence. One word constantly repeated in this crowd is fitnah, religious strife.

Unidentified Man #2: Fitnah.

KASTE: But Christians were hardly the only victims here. Just a few blocks away, Tahrir hospital received seven of the dead and treated about 50 of the injured, like Ahmend Magdi Ahmed, a young Muslim laid up with a gunshot wound to the leg.

Mr. AHMEND MAGDI AHMED: (Foreign language spoken)

KASTE: I ran across a group of Christians with automatic weapons, he says, and they were just shooting people.

Mr. AHMED: (Foreign language spoken)

KASTE: The trigger for the violence appears to have been a rumor that a Christian woman who'd converted to Islam had been abducted and was being held inside a church. Similar stories have caused violence before. Still, Egyptians are worried about where things are going.

Mr. HOSSAM BAHGAT (Executive Director, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights): There is a sense of shock.

KASTE: Hossam Bahgat is executive director of an NGO called the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. He says he doesn't think there have been more incidents of violence, but he thinks they are becoming more severe; destroyed churches, murder and mutilation.

Mr. BAHGAT: There is generally a sense of an increased boldness of extremist elements in society that are attempting to intimidate Christians.

KASTE: The Copts are especially wary of those who call themselves Salafists, devout Muslims who believe in a pure Muslim identity for Egyptian society.

Bahgat says since the revolution, extremists have felt freer rein.

Mr. BAHGAT: They know that police officers will not rush to use violence against them because of hostility that people on the streets generally feel towards the police.

KASTE: On Sunday, the military government tried to remedy that impression. Justice Minister Mohamed el-Guindy went on TV and invoked the spirit of Muslim-Christian solidarity that was so visible during the Tahrir Square revolution.

Minister MOHAMED EL-GUINDY (Ministry of Justice, Egypt): (Through Translator) The people of Egypt, the brave police and the great army are joining forces as a protective shield against the counterrevolution.

KASTE: In the name of protecting the revolution, the military says it's cracking down. It's arrested 190 people and says it'll make them face military trials. But for the Coptic Christians, this isn't enough.

(Soundbite of chanting)

KASTE: On Sunday night, thousands of Copts barricaded a street along the Nile. They chanted: Hey, Tantawi. Where are you? The Copts can't find you, a reference to Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the ruling army council.

Ihab Samir, a middle-aged Copt who spent time in New Jersey, says the revolution has let hatred for Christians out into the open, and the Copts have to take a stand.

Mr. IHAB SAMIR: We don't want the violence to go on. And if it continues on, then there's going to be thousands and thousands more Copts coming to this place, to say, we exist.

KASTE: And there are signs that Egyptians still feel the solidarity expressed during the revolution. Some Muslims even came to the Copts' protest, women in headscarves and men like Walid Muhammed.

Mr. WALID MUHAMMED: (Foreign language spoken)

KASTE: I am an Egyptian Muslim, he says, and I do not accept a Christian or a Muslim to be insulted in his own country.

Martin Kaste, NPR News, Cairo.

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