CAIRO: Hundreds of Coptic protesters said on Thursday that they would continue their open sit in in-front of the state TV building until the Virgin and Bishop Abram Church in Ain Shams district is re-opened and the Maghagha Diocese in Minya is rebuilt.
Bishop Mitias Nasr told protesters that according to the priests at the church, police forces attempting to re-open the Virgin and Bishop Abram Church in the afternoon, were impeded by Salafis, ultra-conservative Muslims.
Security officials told AFP several hundred Muslims and Coptic Christians pelted each other with stones after hardline Islamists showed up at the church to object to its reopening.
Military police moved in and restored calm, the officials said on condition of anonymity.
“How is it that the government and the army can’t control some Salafis and reopen a church,” said Coptic protester Emad Rayyan at Maspero.
“This means that the violations against Copts will recur because the government can’t protect us.”
Mitias said that rebuilding Maghagha Diocese was on hold because of the negligence of a government employee who ignored the Prime Minister’s decision to rebuild it.
While some protesters believed that they should continue the sit-in until all the churches are reopened, others were visibly angry that the state was so weak.
Mitias tried to reason with them.
“[The army and government] are doing their best to meet our legitimate demands,” he said.
He added that 13 Salafis were detained by security forces in the Imbaba clashes, which he considered a victory for the Copts.
Ten were arrested last week for posting a video believed to have incited the burning of churches in Imbaba, in addition to 213 for their involvement in the clashes and the burning of the Virgin Church.
Last week, violent clashes broke out after Salafis surrounded a church in Imbaba demanding the handover of a woman who was allegedly held against her will by the church after converting to Islam to marry a Muslim after leaving her abusive husband. Fifteen people were killed and more than 200 injured.
Mitias said there were people posing as protesters to stir their emotions for personal agendas which were against Coptic interests.
“Let us remain honorable people who make legitimate demands,” he said.
“It’s not possible that we achieve all our rights in 12 days of protests after we’ve been persecuted and denied our rights for 14 centuries,” he added.
The government had reopened two churches on Thursday; one in Assuit and another in Beni Suef governorates after speaking with a delegation representing the Coptic protesters on Wednesday, according to Mitias.
PM Sharaf agreed to reopen all churches starting with the reopening of three churches on Thursday, according to Bishop Filopateer Gamil of the Giza Archbishopric and member of the delegation which spoke to the PM.
Gamil said that the Coptic protesters were planning to end the open sit-in after the meeting with Sharaf. Hundreds of protesters had left since Wednesday night, he added.
However, when they heard that Salafis prevented authorities from reopening the church in the eastern Cairo neighborhood of Ain Shams, they decided to stay.
“We already had very little faith in the government, but now after what happened (in Ain Shams church and the Maghagha Diocese), our faith in the government is close to nothing,” Gamil told DNE.
He said that the Coalition of the Youth of the Revolution had adopted the demands of the Copts because they are considered national demands.
He added that the Copts would participate in mass protests on May 27 dubbed “The Second Egyptian Rage Revolution” to reiterate their demands.