Security breakdown in Egypt: Islamic militants on the attack, Christians protesting

Thursday, March 10, 2011   E-Mail this story   Free Headline Alerts

CAIRO Tensions between Christian and Muslims have soared after the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Security sources said clashes between Christian and Muslims have increased since the collapse of the Mubarak regime. They said Islamic activists have been targeting churches and other assets of the Coptic Christian community over the last month.

"Both sides feel stronger after the protest campaign [that ousted Mubarak]," a security source said.

On March 8, clashes between Christians and Muslims killed at least 13 people and injured 140 in the Cairo suburb of Helwan. The sources said both sides used firearms, knives and clubs in fighting that began with a Christian protest.

The Copts were said to have blocked a highway outside Cairo, throwing rocks at motorists and burning tires. Thousands of Muslims retaliated with gunfire and at least six Christians were killed during the four-hour battle.

Coptic organizers said the military regime has failed to protect the Christian community. They cited a military attack in February in which main battle tanks and armored personnel carriers stormed two Coptic monasteries.

The sources said the clashes were exacerbated by the lack of security throughout Egypt. They said the Interior Ministry has not yet reorganized the police and security forces in wake of the defection of thousands of officers in the last days of the Mubarak regime in February.

As a result, Coptic churches have come under attack from Islamic activists inspired by Al Qaida. In early March, a Coptic church was torched in a Cairo suburb amid tension that stemmed from a purported love affair between a Christian man and a Muslim woman.

Copts have been demonstrating for equal rights under the new military regime. Thousands of protesters have been holding a vigil in downtown Cairo for an end to official discrimination, including a ban on new churches.

The military regime has sought to reconcile with Egypt's huge Islamist community. Islamic sources said the regime was preparing to release convicted insurgents, including those from the Gamiat Islamiya, linked to Al Qaida.

"All sons of Egypt have to refrain from any act that could stir chaos and confusion, particularly in view of the external forces that target the nation's security and stability," Egyptian Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi, chairman of the military council, said.

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