(Updates with statement from Sawiris’s party in seventh paragraph, adds background starting in fifth.)
Oct. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Hundreds of mourners carried the body of a protester killed in clashes between Coptic Christians and security forces through Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the site of protests that brought down President Hosni Mubarak.
Egypt’s ruling military council, which took over from Mubarak in February, ordered the Cabinet to form a fact-finding committee to investigate the Oct. 9 violence. The clashes, in which at least 25 people died, were the most deadly since Mubarak’s ouster.
Sectarian tensions have increasingly turned violent amid complaints about a lack of security and fears expressed by many Christians about a stronger role for Islamists in post-Mubarak Egypt, where parliamentary elections are scheduled to start on Nov. 28. The fighting erupted while Christians were protesting an attack on a church in southern Egypt.
“If these protesters hadn’t been Christians, they wouldn’t have been treated that way,” Emad Gad, an analyst at the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, said in a telephone interview. “This is a watershed moment for Egypt.”
Thousands of mourners chanted against the military during a mass funeral of 17 Christian protesters held late yesterday in the Coptic Christian Cathedral in Cairo, the Associated Press reported. Early today, hundreds of Christians and Muslims carried the body of Mina Daniel, an activist who was killed in the violence, through Tahrir Square, the state-run Middle East News Agency said.
The military started an investigation into 25 accused of involvement in Sunday’s violence, MENA reported yesterday. Those arrested were involved in acts of “sabotage” and attacks on soldiers and army property, it said, citing an unidentified official.
The Free Egyptians party co-founded by Christian businessman Naguib Sawiris said today in an e-mailed statement that it “warns the military council that continuing to handle events with force will shake the trust that Egyptians have given it.” It called on the army to “shoulder its responsibility to protect Christian establishments” and called the violence “a clear attack on the freedom to peacefully protest.”
The party called for an “independent and civilian fact- finding” committee to investigate the incident and hold those responsible for the deaths accountable.
Egypt’s economy is still reeling from the revolt that ousted Hosni Mubarak from his 30-year presidency, contracting 4.2 percent from January to March as revenue from industries such as tourism plummeted. Gross domestic product grew 1.8 percent in the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to government figures, its weakest performance in at least 10 years. The country’s benchmark stock index, the EGX 30, rose 2 percent at the 2:30 p.m. close in Cairo after declining 2.3 percent yesterday to the lowest level since March 2009.
The Coptic Church said yesterday it was “horrified” by the events, “signaling that outsiders have infiltrated the march and committed crimes that were blamed on Copts,” MENA reported. Christians suffer from repeated incidents where attackers aren’t held accountable and no solutions are reached, the news agency cited the church as saying in a statement.
Discrimination against Copts, who make up about 10 percent of the population of Egypt, was encouraged by Mubarak’s government, according to a U.S. State Department report on religious freedom published last year. Some Christians say the discrimination has continued.
U.S. President Barack Obama yesterday called for all sides to refrain from violence. “The rights of minorities -- including Copts -- must be respected,” he said.
The Cabinet said in a faxed statement yesterday it would review a draft law on the legalization of unauthorized places of worship and may approve a unified law within two weeks.
Egypt will add a new clause to an existing law, stipulating a prison sentence and a fine for anyone, including government employees, who practices discrimination of citizens based on gender, origin, language, religion or belief, the statement said.
The Oct. 9 demonstrations started peacefully and turned violent when protesters came under attack by men in civilian clothing who pelted them with stones and later clashed with security forces, witnesses said. Some were killed and injured by gunfire, others were run over by an armored vehicle, they said.
Sectarian clashes in Giza on May 7 left at least 12 dead and hundreds injured.
--With assistance from Abdel Latif Wahba and Ola Galal in Cairo. Editors: Digby Lidstone, Ben Holland.
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