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Thursday, May 12, 2011     FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

Christians seek U.S. intervention as violence increases in post-Mubarak Egypt

CAIRO — Egypt's Christian minority has asked for international protection amid renewed Islamic attacks.


Leaders of the Coptic community have warned that Islamic attacks have become intolerable. They asked the West, particularly the United States, to intervene with the new military regime in Egypt, which they said has not protected them.

"Oh Tantawi, where are you?" Copts, referring to military council chief Hussein Tantawi, chanted in a demonstration on May 8. "They burned down my church in front of you."

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Coptic leaders said the eight-million-member community has come under increasing threat since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in February. They said Al Qaida supporters, called Salafists, were attacking churches and Coptic homes on the pretext that they were harboring converts from Islam.

Officials have acknowledged what they termed increasing sectarian tension and ordered the army to help protect Copts. Over the last few days, they issued warnings against both Copts and Salafists.

"Egypt has already become a nation in danger,” Justice Minister Abdul Aziz Gindi said.

In the Cairo neighborhood of Imbaba, which contains nine churches, about 2,000 Copts and Muslims fought with everything from firearms to sticks. The Interior Ministry said at least six Christians and six Muslims were killed and 220 were injured, many of them by gunfire on May 8. Nearly 200 people were arrested.

Copts in Cairo have begun forming defense groups to protect against Salafist attacks. They said the army and police have failed to provide sufficient protection, which has only encouraged the Salafists.

The leader of the Salafists was identified as Mohammed Hassan. Copts said Hassan was provoking violence in an effort to carve out a role for the Salafists ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections in 2011.

Analysts have assessed that the Salafists were being quietly supported by members of the former Mubarak regime. They said the two elements appear to have formed a partnership similar to that by the military regime and the Muslim Brotherhood.

"They [Salafists] think that violence achieves power," said Nabil Abdul Fatah, an analyst at the state-owned Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

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