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EGYPT: Coptic protesters demand government accountability, protection

May 9, 2011 | 12:58 pm

Copts _picnik

Hundreds of Coptic Christians took to the streets in Cairo on Monday to protest recent Muslim-Christian clashes that left a dozen dead and a church badly damaged.

By sunset, about a thousand demonstrators had gathered outside the headquarters of Egypt’s state-run TV building, a familiar backdrop of revolutionary protests, to criticize the Egyptian army’s handling of the weekend clashes and to demand international intervention.

About three dozen riot police stood waiting nearby as the crowd grew increasingly agitated, chanting, "We want our kidnapped girls," a reference to rumors that Coptic women had been held against their will by those who want to convert them to Islam.

Timeline: Revolution in Egypt

“They burn our churches, they kill our sons and kidnap our daughters. We want our rights in this country, we want our children back,” said Carma Isha, 58, a homemaker, as she stood amid the crowd late Monday.

“I don’t believe in the government,” she said.

The demonstration came as authorities on Monday detained 23 Egyptians, including two blamed for starting riots in the Imbaba neighborhood late Saturday.

Some of the Christian protesters camping outside the state TV building demanded the government take action against ultraconservative Muslims known as the Salafists, who they say were the real force behind the riots in Imbaba that targeted two Coptic churches and injured more than 200.

“The ones who are responsible for this have not been arrested,” said Hatem Shariff, 34, the owner of a plastic factory who was carrying a cross fashioned from glow sticks and a small Egyptian flag. “We are asking for international protection because the government cannot protect us. They are with the Salafists.”

Authorities have arrested 190 people after the church attack, including Yassin Thabet, 31, who claimed his wife was held against her will in one of the Coptic churches.

Protesters said they were not satisfied by the arrests. They said they want U.S., European Union and United Nations officials to intervene on their behalf.

“They always lecture us about human rights and minority rights -- where are they?” said Emad Raheem, 42, a shop owner.

Emad Anwar, 33, said he was particularly frustrated that foreign leaders have become involved in other struggles in the region, but have not come to the defense of the Coptic minority.

“They are fighting in Libya and protecting the people. Why can’t they be in Egypt with us? We really need protection.”

Adel Guindy, one of the protest organizers, claimed there have been more than 60 attacks on Coptic churches since the new government took over in January, with few arrests made.

He said protesters want the authorities to arrest those responsible, release Coptic protesters detained after a sit-in last month and protect Coptic churches.

Until those demands are met, he said, protesters will remain camped out in the streets.


Timeline: Revolution in Egypt

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Cairo

Photo: Coptic Christians protest Monday night outside the state TV building in Cairo. Credit: Molly Hennessy-Fiske / Los Angeles Times