A horrifying display of violence shook Egypt yesterday during what was meant to be a peaceful protest by Coptic Christians in Cairo. Protesters gathered to condemn the burning down of a church in the southern Aswan province when unidentified individuals in plain clothing suddenly assaulted them. Shortly afterward, security forces arrived and attacked the demonstrators. It was an extremely brutal display as soldiers opened fire into the crowd and tanks crushed Coptic bodies. 25 people were reported dead.
The Copts, members of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, make up the largest ethnoreligious group in Egypt and the largest minority in the region. They strongly oppose violence and even welcomed the few Muslims that came to support their cause.
Since the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, sectarian tensions have increased in Egypt, with radical Muslims wreaking havoc against Christian organizations and churches. Many Copts believe that the army sympathizes with Islamic extremists, and grow increasingly concerned by the gaining power of radicals in Egypt’s vulnerable political state.
The state of Egypt only recognizes conversions from Christianity to Islam, but not vice versa.
As of now, a parliamentary election is scheduled for November 28th. It will be the first official election since the fall of Mubarak. But will a new political power really be the solution to sectarian conflicts within Egypt? Or is a civil war inevitable despite official peace efforts? It’s easy to be skeptical about the future of Egypt when seemingly every peace effort ends in tragedy.