Reuters blog archive
The surge of popular unity that toppled Hosni Mubarak last week has eased tension between Egypt's Muslims and the Coptic Christian minority and raised hopes for lasting harmony. Muslims and Christians joined hands and formed human shields to protect each other from riot police as members of the different faiths prayed during the protests in Cairo.
Alongside banners demanding Mubarak's resignation and an end to emergency rule, protesters held aloft posters of the Christian cross and Islamic crescent together against the red white and black of Egypt's flag.
"Egypt has been victorious over what they called sectarian strife," respected Muslim preacher Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi told millions gathered in Cairo's Tahrir (Liberation) Square on Friday. "Here in Tahrir, the Christian and Muslim stood side by side," he said. "This cursed strife is no more."
Egyptian cleric Yusef Al-Qaradawi has provoked a storm of criticism with comments this month attacking Shi'ites for alleged attempts to proselytize in Sunni Arab societies. It's a debate which has been bubbling since 2003 when the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein -- which the Sunni Arab governments didn't like but know how to live with -- was removed by the American-led invasion and ultimately replaced by a Shi'ite government reflecting the demographic superiority of Shi'ites in Iraq today.
Free to contact work with fellow Shi'ites in neighbouring Iran and develop links with the powerful Shi'ites of Lebanon and even with the more precariously-placed Shi'ites in the Gulf Arab coutnries, the rise of the Shi'ites in Iraq has been nothig less than a seismic shift in the region's potical landscape. Numerous Arab leaders have shown their concern with comments suggesting a crescent of Shi'ite power was developing across the region from Lebanon to Iran (as Jordan's King Abdullah has said) or that Arab Shi'ites real loyalties are to Iran (according to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak).