CAIRO: Egypt’s top Muslim official has called for emergency talks on Monday between Muslim and Christian leaders, after the deadliest violence since president Hosni Mubarak’s fall left 24 people dead, state television said.
Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayyeb, who heads Sunni Islam’s highest seat of learning, has called for talks with members of the Egyptian Family – an organization that groups Muslim and Christian clerics – "in a bid to contain the crisis," the television said.
Al-Tayyeb has also been in contact with Coptic Pope Shenuda III, it added.
Al-Tayyeb’s call comes just hours after clashes in central Cairo that left 24 people, mostly Coptic Christians, dead and more than 200 wounded.
The clashes broke out during a demonstration in the Maspero district on the Nile, where Coptic demonstrators were protesting against a recent attack on a church in the southern Egyptian city of Aswan.
Later Sunday night, hundreds of Muslims and Coptic Christians exchanged blows and threw stones at the hospital treating the wounded from the earlier clashes, an AFP correspondent reported.
Copts complain of systematic discrimination but, since Mubarak’s fall, tensions have also mounted between the military – initially hailed for not siding with Mubarak – and groups that spearheaded the revolt, which say the army is reluctant to press ahead with reform.
Sectarian clashes are frequent in Egypt, where the Coptic minority, which makes up about 10 percent of the Muslim-majority country’s 80 million people, has often been the target of attacks.