Churches in Cairo. Photo credit: ideacreamanuelaPps, http://flic.kr/p/6oWwU8
Violence erupted in Egypt this week during a demonstration in Cairo. Twenty-six people were killed and 300 injured, The Guardian reported, as military police clashed with Coptic Christians protesting against an attack on a church in the Maspero area of the capital. The government is holding crisis talks amid fears that the violence will escalate in the face of growing religious tension.
Sectarian violence. According to a Telegraph editorial, Egypt’s Coptic Christians, who make up around 10 percent of the country’s population, “have been subjected to a continuous campaign of sectarian attacks since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak last February”, with blame falling on Islamists militants associated with Salafism. The editorial argued that it is in the Egyptian government’s best interests to intervene for the sake of the country’s development into a modern nation.
Non-sectarian violence. By contrast, Ahdaf Soueif argued on The Guardian‘s Comment is Free that the violence was not caused by sectarianism. Soueif wrote that the army had been “set up” to believe the Christian protesters were attacking them, and suggested the whole thing had been orchestrated in order to increase religious divisions in Egypt. However, also writing for Comment is Free, William Dalrymple insisted the violence was symptomatic of divisions between Christians and Muslims in Egypt since the fall of Mubarak, and that this is an issue throughout the region: “The Arab spring, it is widely feared, could yet mark the onset of the final Christian winter for the forgotten faithful of the Middle East”, he wrote.
Accountability. Evan Hill wrote for Al Jazeera that the only way to stop sectarian violence escalating in the wake of recent clashes is if those responsible are held to account. However, Hill was not confident this would happen, as Prime Minister Essam Sharaf continued to blame “foreign and domestic conspirators.” Hill also reported on the role of the state-controlled media in the violence: “On Sunday night, state television aired images of wounded soldiers and called on viewers to defend the military at Maspero, which it said was under attack from the Christian protesters.”
Gloomy prospects. Writing for The Atlantic, Thanassis Cambanis was pessimistic about the legacy of the Egyptian revolution – and not simply because of the latest violence. Cambanis suggested that the inexperience of newly formed political parties, an inability to overcome deeply held ideological divisions and the increasing confidence of the current military regime mean that the revolution “is being eaten alive”.