Egypt’s Prime Minister Essam Sharaf has told state television that the violence witnessed on Sunday in Cairo was not “sectarian tension” but rather “an escalating plan for the fall and fragmentation of the state.”
Sunday evening saw massive riots break out following a Christian protest against a church attack last week. At least 26 people were killed and over 200 people were wounded in the violence.
Christian protestors said their demonstration started off as a peaceful march, but the protests turned violent when the Christian rally converged with another demonstration taking place at Egypt’s radio and television headquarters.
It is unclear over which group of protesters were initially involved, but reports suggest that some demonstrators and security forces began throwing rocks at each other and quickly escalated. Cars were set on fire, and army vehicles were seen driving at full speed toward the demonstrating crowd, injuring and killing several protestors.
Numerous eye witnesses have said that the Coptic protestors were unarmed and said the protest was peaceful until they were attacked by the military.
Talaat Youssef, a 23-year old Christian trader, told Reuters, “We were marching peacefully.”
He added, “When we got to the state television building, the army started firing live ammunition.”
When clashes broke out, some Egyptian Muslims worked in tandem with the military to fight against the protesters.
The New York Times has suggested that violence was sparked because the protesters converged with another protest taking place at the television headquarters, which was aimed squarely at the ruling military council as many in Egypt fear that that military is avoiding turning over power.
Prime Minister Sharaf argues that many in Egypt are buying into a feeling of conspiracy that the current government wants to avoid elections and keep their hold on power.
However, Sharaf seemed to evade the conspiracy concerns saying on his Facebook page, “The only beneficiary of these events and acts of violence are the enemies of the January revolution and the enemies of the Egyptian people, both Muslim and Christian.”
Christians make up 10 percent of the Egyptian population and the attack has prompted the government to consider new laws that will criminalize sectarian violence.