By Essam Fadl
CAIRO: Thirteen people were killed and 140 were injured in clashes between Muslims and Christians on Tuesday night in the Moqattam, Qala’a and Sayeda Aisha areas.
Security and hospital officials told the Associated Press that all 13 fatalities died of gunshot wounds. At least five of the dead were Muslim.
The clashes that went on to early Wednesday morning started after hundreds of Copts protested the burning of a the Two Martyrs Church in Sol village, Etfeeh, Helwan last Friday.
Protesters blocked the vital Autostrad Road near the Manshiyet Nasser neighborhood to stage a sit-in there.
Eyewitnesses told Daily News Egypt that “protesting Copts were surprised to find large numbers of thugs carrying knives and guns attacking them.” The clashes spread to reach the surrounding residential areas, including Moqattam, Qala’a and Sayeda Aisha.
However, one eyewitness gave another account of the clashes.
A resident of Manshiyet Nasser these areas said they were told protesting Copts had burnt a small mosque and were going to burn the iconic Sayeda Aisha Mosque after Muslims burnt a small church. Thus residents of the area went out to defend the mosque from the alleged threat.
The eyewitness said the protesting Copts were attacking cars on the road.
The injured Copts were transferred to hospitals in private cars as ambulances couldn’t reach the area during the clashes.
Army forces shot gunfire in the air to disperse the crowds on both sides in the early hours of Wednesday.
Coptic residents there accused “Salafist groups and thugs” of orchestrating the attack on the Copts. Salafism is a strict interpretation of Islam, but not necessarily violent.
Father Samaan, the priest of the Samaan El-Kharraz Church in Moqattam, told DNE that what happened wasn’t a clash between Muslims and Christians. “The attack was organized and used guns. [The neighborhood’s] Muslim residents don’t have this big number of weapons.”
Eyewitnesses said that the attack on the protesters was escalated to the use of Molotov cocktails, where four houses and two factories owned by Copts were set on fire.
Activists and political parties, including Al-Wafd, Al-Tagammu and the Democratic Front, announced their intent to organize a million man march from Tahrir to Sol village this Friday. A number of activists went there on Wednesday.
The head of the Human Rights Union Organization, Naguib Gobrael, told DNE that if attacks on Copts are not stopped, he would take the issue to international rights organizations.
Ramsis El-Naggar, the lawyer of the Coptic Orthodox Church, told DNE there were attempts to calm everything down. “A number of Coptic figures and from the Church are trying to convince those organizing the sit-in in front of the state TV building to [leave].”
“We got a promise from the armed forces to heed to the legitimate demands of the protesters,” he added.
The lawyer explained that an official permit to rebuild the burnt church was already acquired.