(Photo: Amr Dalsh / Reuters)
Three Egyptian soldiers have been buried in Cairo following the violent clashes at the weekend that killed 26 people, most of whom were Coptic Christians.
“The military, intent on preserving its strong image, did not disclose [all of] its losses,” reported CBS News.
Coptic Christians are blaming Egypt’s security forces for the brutish violence used during peaceful protests in Cairo.
Violence erupted in Cairo Sunday when Christians gathered to protest against the burning of a Coptic church in Southern Aswan on Sept. 30. The burning was allegedly carried out by local hardline Muslims who claimed the church did not have the license for the construction of a dome.
“When a Muslim protester gets killed, the whole country gets on its feet, but when Copts are killed, nothing happens,” mourner Fakhri Girgis Fakhri told The Los Angeles Times at a funeral presided over by Pope Shenouda III.
Although intended to be peaceful, violence broke out when military personnel commenced a crackdown on Sunday's protest.
Mourners are blaming the Egyptian army for the high death toll, arguing that the Christian march on Sunday was absolutely peaceful until the military started a crackdown. In the ensuing clashes, Islamic extremists joined the attacks against the Christians and a military vehicle was allegedly driven directly into crowds of protesters.
Some rights activists reported military personnel firing directly into the crowd of protesters.
"They were armed with swords, sticks and stones – some of them had rifles, it seems," Father Rafic Greiche, official spokesman for the Catholic Church of Egypt, said in a statement to the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
"They did not have to use force. It was a peaceful demonstration," he added.
Egypt’s military leaders held an emergency conference with Christian leaders Monday to discuss peace and compromise.
According to The Guardian newspaper, the brute force used by security forces on Sunday night is now being investigated, as ordered by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
According to Fox News, 20,000 people gathered at the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo on Monday to mourn the dead. Their prayers were mingled with shouts for justice, with some attendees chanting “Down with military rule” and “The people want to topple the marshal.”
According to Fox, police brutality was intermingled with Muslim civilian unity.
“State television called on civilians to 'protect' the army, casting the Christians as a mob seeking to undermine national unity,” reported Fox News.
A number of critics say that Egyptian state television not only failed to calm matters, but actually played a role in aggravating an already tense situation, Ahram Online, an English-language news website published by Al-Ahram Establishment, Egypt’s largest news organization, reported.
“The message is to the whole society, not to Christians in particular. I believe this is all in preparation with wider confrontation," Bahy Eldeen Hassan, head of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, told CBS News.
"I am afraid they used the Coptic Christians exploiting sectarianism and knowing that Christians will receive less sharper response from the public," he added.
Coptic Pope Shenouda III has implemented a three-day mourning period of fasting and prayers, which began Tuesday, to honor the 26 killed and more than 200 wounded. Copts around the world, including the 300,000 expats who live in the United States, will observe this mourning period.
“This is a time for the entire body of Christ to pray for the church in Egypt and the entire region. It is also a time for all peoples of every religion to come together and work for true freedom, democracy and peace,” said Carl Moeller, president/CEO of Open Doors USA.
Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 80 million. Over recent months Christians in the country have been anxious about their future in the country, as Islamic groups that remained underground or inactive during the rule of the now-ousted president Hosni Mubarak, became more socially and politically active following the fall of the regime in a Jan. 25 Revolution.