Egyptian Christians worry their country is being hijacked by Salafists
Last January, Nazih Moussa Gerges locked up his downtown Cairo law office and joined hundreds of thousands of fellow Egyptians to demand that President Hosni Mubarak step down. The 33-year-old Christian lawyer was back on the streets this month to press military rulers who took over after Mubarak stepped down to end a spate of sectarian attacks that have killed at least 28 people and left many afraid. Those who camped out in Tahrir Square side by side with Muslims to call for national renewal now fear their struggle is being hijacked by ultra-conservative Salafist Islamists with no one to stop them.
“We did not risk our lives to bring Mubarak down in order to have him replaced by Salafists,” Gerges said. “We want an Egypt that will be an example of democracy and freedom for the whole world.”
Sectarian tensions are not new to Egypt, where Christians make up around 10 percent of the population of 80 million. But the frequency and intensity of clashes have increased since Mubarak’s overthrow. Many blame a broader weakening of law and order that began as the protests against Mubarak gathered pace and police deserted the streets. Authorities are trying to rebuild security forces to deal with increased lawlessness following mass jail breakouts.
Egypt’s military rulers have vowed to punish those behind sectarian clashes, banned demonstrations outside places of worship and promised to give Christians equal rights. But Christians say no one has been tried yet for the burning of a church in Helwan, south of Cairo, in March or for violence in the Cairo suburb of Imbaba on May 7 that left 15 people dead. At least 13 died in clashes after the Helwan incident.