Egypt’s military heads are meeting with Christian leaders to discuss peace and compromise in the wake of Sunday’s bloody violence in Cairo.
Sunday's brutal clashes in Cairo saw at least 26 killed and more than 200 injured. Thousands of Coptic Christians earlier joined a funeral procession Monday to mourn their dead.
Christians had gathered on Sunday to protest against the burning of a Coptic church in Southern Aswan which took place on Sept. 30. The burning was carried out allegedly by local hard-line Muslims who claimed the church did not have the license for the construction of a dome.
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. The ensuing clashes reportedly saw Islamic extremists join the attacks against the Christians, and even saw a military vehicle driven directly into crowds of protesters.
According to The Guardian newspaper, the brute force used by security forces on Sunday night is now undergoing investigation ordered by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
In response to the ensuing violence, Germany’s foreign minister Guido Westerwelle commented: “It is about time that the Egyptian leadership understands the importance of religious plurality and tolerance."
U.S. President Barack Obama has released a statement urging peace and compromise “so that Egyptians can move forward together to forge a strong and united Egypt.”
Reports of casualties have been coming through since Sunday night after Egypt’s military and police sought to quell the peaceful protests by members of the country’s largest Christian denomination, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.
It remains unclear if the victims were mostly Christian but there were reports of suspected Islamist groups throwing stones at and beating protesting Copts who were demanding a halt to the growing attacks on churches.
At 12:18 a.m., local time, witnesses told Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm that groups of “thugs” were attacking businesses owned by Christians near Abdel Moneim Riyadh Square, which was the epicenter of violence.
The daily said a group of men chanting, “Islamic, Islamic!” – “a common slogan of Islamist groups” – was spotted at Cairo’s Qasr al-Ainy Street less than an hour before the post-midnight attack. Another group, chanting “Allahu Akbar,” was seen standing next to a group of Central Security Forces officers elsewhere, it added.
The crackdown on protesters began minutes after Prime Minister Essam Sharaf asked military and security officials to “contain the situation.” But Sharaf blamed the violence on the “enemies of the January 25 Revolution.”
“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 Dr. 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 which 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 “January 25 Revolution.”