Anger grows at Egypt military in Christian deaths

By Maggie Michael

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 11 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Angry Egyptian Christians protest outside St. Mark's Cathedral against the military ruling council in Cairo Egypt, Monday, Oct. 10, 2011 a day after at least 24 people were killed when Christians, angered by a recent church attack, clashed Sunday night with Muslims and security forces outside the state television building in central Cairo.

Amr Nabil, Associated Press

CAIRO — Videos of military armored vehicles plowing through Christian protesters and images of their flattened bodies are fueling rage against the ruling army generals, even beyond Egypt's Christian community. Activists accused the military of fomenting sectarian hatred as a way to end protests and halt criticism.

Anger was also turning on state television, blamed for inciting attacks on Christians as the military crushed a Christian protest late Sunday, leaving 26 dead, in the worst violence since the February fall of Hosni Mubarak.

The bloodshed was seen by many activists as a turning point in Egypt's already chaotic transition: the deadliest use of force against protesters by the military, which has touted itself as the "protector of the revolution." Criticism has been mounting that the military, which took power after Mubarak's ouster, has adopted the same tactics as the former regime and has been slow to bring real change.

The repercussions began to hit the interim civilian government. Finance Minister Hazem El-Beblawi on Tuesday handed in his resignation over the government's handling of Sunday's protest. El-Beblawi effectively told Prime Minister Essam Sharaf that "he can't work like this," said an aide to the minister, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Christians vented their fury at the overnight funeral at the Coptic Christian Cathedral for 17 of the at least 21 Christians killed in the army attack.

Prayers were interrupted by chants of "Down with military rule" and "The people want to topple the field marshal," — a reference to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who heads the ruling military council. No state official or military official were present at the funeral.

Egypt's Christians, who represent about 10 percent of the 85 million people in this Muslim-majority nation, have long complained that they are second-class citizens. In recent years, increasingly influential ultraconservative Muslims, known as Salafis, have spread rhetoric that Christians are trying to take over, protesting against the building of churches and accusing Christians of hoarding stocks of weapons. Violence against Christians, the majority of whom belong to the orthodox Coptic Church, has mounted since the fall of Mubarak as state control has loosened.

Bahy Eldeen Hassan, head of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, said the military may have counted on sectarian sentiment against Christians to allow it to crush the protest and send a signal that it will no longer tolerate civil unrest and criticism.

"The message is to the whole society not to Christians in particular. I believe this is all in preparation with wider confrontation," Hassan said. "I am afraid they used the Coptic Christians exploiting sectarianism and knowing that Christians will receive less sharper response from the public," he added.

Sunday night's confrontation began when thousands of Coptic Christians marched to the state television building, located on a main boulevard along the Nile, to stage a sit-in protesting a recent attack on a church in southern Egypt.

Witnesses said the gathering was peaceful until it was attacked. Video footage showed the crowd chanting slogans until riot police and soldier descended on them.

In the ensuing mayhem, footage shows military armored vehicles barreling through the crowd back and forth at high speeds. From the back of one vehicle, a soldier opens fire wildly on protesters. The footage — both amateur video posted on YouTube and media video — showed bodies with crushed heads or bleeding limbs.

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