Op-Ed: 190 Arrested in Sectarian Clashes in Cairo

Posted May 9, 2011 by Brian Ringland
Sectarian violence in Cairo this weekend has claimed the lives of twelve and injured more than two hundred others. There are worries that Egypt could descend into a civil war that would engulf the entire nation.
Egyptians gathering at Tahir Square
Egyptians gathering at Tahir Square
Maggie Osama
In Imbada, a suburb northwest of Cairo, deadly fighting erupted between Coptic Christians and ultraconservative Muslims killing 12 people and leaving hundreds more injured. Each side is blaming the other for causing the clashes. The violence began on Saturday night when a group of Muslims attacked the Virgin Mary Church. The violence was apparently triggered by allegations that Copts have held women against their will because they intended to convert to Islam. The hard-line movement of Muslims known as Salafis, have been showing increasing signs of hostility towards the Coptic Christians in Egypt. The violence that occurred on Saturday is the worst since the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarek back in February.
Coptic Christians make up roughly 10 percent of Egypt’s population of about 80 million. As the caretaker government in place tries to maintain order, confrontations between members of the two communities have become increasingly common as well as more violent. In 2010, on New Year's Eve, the Coptic Orthodox Church in the city of Alexandria was attacked. There were 21 deaths with scores more injured.
After four hours of cabinet talks the government issued a warning saying that it would crack down to ensure security and peace. Reports say that 190 people have been detained in connection with the clashes and would face military trials. Different parties and political entities in Egypt are trying to boost their exposure and strengthen their position with their respective supporters ahead of the election this fall.
Egyptian media outlets are today citing 'anti-revolutionaries' as the cause of the sectarian violence that is taking place. There are worries that the entire country could become embroiled in a civil war should the caretaker government fail to act. Egyptian authorities have now sealed off the entry points to Imbada, where the clashes occurred on the weekend. There have been calls to bring in laws that make it illegal to attack churches or places or worship.
Since the fall of Hosni Mubarak's government the country has been plagued by insecurity and sectarian violence.There are counter-revolutionary elements in Egypt that are trying to sow unrest. Some of these elements are from the old regime and some are merely opportunists, seeking to strengthen their position while there is only a provisional government in place. A military source reported that the military had received information about a plot to plunge the country into civil war by provoking sectarian feuds. Egypt's Grand Mufti, Ali Gomaa called on the provisional government to protect the country from schemes that could descend it into a civil war.