Very disturbing news from Egpt about open warfare breaking out between Muslims and Coptic Christians. You may have heard of the clashes a couple of days ago that cost the lives of 5 Christians.
Last night, there was a public funeral for the victims at the ancient St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo. A mob of armed Muslims attacked the cathedral killing at least one Christian and injuring dozens. Hundreds of Christians are currently trapped inside the cathedral. The police are apparently halfheartedly trying to protect the Christians but as the story below relates, there is a limit to their enforcement of the law.
Late last night President Morsi issued a statement in which he said he had spoken to Pope Tawadros II, the leader of the Coptic church, and had given orders for the cathedral and citizens to be guarded. He said protecting the lives of Muslims and Christians was a state responsibility and added: "I consider any attack on the cathedral as an attack on me, personally."
The man killed in the clashes outside the cathedral was named by the state news agency, MENA, as Mahrous Hana Tadros, a Christian name. MENA said 11 of the 84 injured were police officers.
Earlier, witnesses described how they were attacked by locals from Abbasiyya, the north-east Cairo neighbourhood where the cathedral is located. After being hit by rocks from the roofs of nearby buildings, the mourners were reportedly forced back into the cathedral compound.
Wael Eskandar, an Egyptian blogger who attended the funeral, said he saw people being showered with broken bottles from the roof of an apartment block opposite. After being attacked, he said, the people "started racing out of the side street and destroying the nearby cars". He added that he was not sure if those attacking the vehicles were mourners. As night fell the streets around St Mark's were echoing to the sound of gunshots and exploding tear gas canisters. Young men on either side of the 18ft-high compound wall exchanged a continuous hail of rocks and broken masonry. Others hurled Molotov cocktails and let off fireworks.
The security forces positioned outside the cathedral launched volley after volley of tear gas into the compound. Some of the thousands of onlookers gathered in the road cheered as the canisters rocketed towards Christians perched on the walls overlooking the main street.
One young man, his right hand clasped around a shiny steel handgun, clambered on top of a petrol station alongside the cathedral and blasted a single round at those trapped inside. He was helped down by a friend who was also carrying a handgun, before they both jogged off through a nearby line of riot police who had been watching the young man take aim. Soon afterwards there was a flash from inside the compound as a young man stepped up on to the perimeter wall and fired a weapon towards the thousands of onlookers below.
The attacks follow a pattern begun during the Mubarak regime, where violence between Muslims and Christians was carried out under the eyes of the police who either failed to intervene, or made only token efforts to restrain the Muslims.
This will likely result in more Chrstians fleeing the country and embolden Muslims to continue to attack Christians with impunity.