- (Reuters/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, or USCIRF, is demanding an investigation of excessive force used in Cairo during clashes on Sunday.
USCIRF is requesting a “thorough, impartial, and independent investigation to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice in civilian courts,” the Commission said in a statement Tuesday.
USCIRF also requests “that Egypt’s military forces are held accountable for reportedly using excessive force.”
Mourners are blaming the Egyptian army for the high death toll of 26 on Sunday, arguing that the Christian march 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.
Some human rights activists reported military personnel firing directly into the crowd of protesters.
Violence erupted in Cairo on Sunday when Christians gathered 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.
Christians are accusing both the state television and the military of making peaceful Christian protesters seem like the aggressors.
Egypt’s military leaders held an emergency conference with Christian leaders on Monday to discuss peace and compromise.
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."
Concerned countries agree that the upcoming elections in Egypt are imperative to the future of the country, especially for those practicing Christianity in Egypt.
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.”
USCIRF urged the American government to go a step further, by allocating $1.3 billion in military aid to religious communities suffering persecution in Egypt.
According to reports, the current military tribunal which runs the government claims it will step down after the elections nominate a new leader.
“With parliamentary elections mere weeks away, the Egyptian government must promptly investigate, prosecute those responsible, and deter any future attacks,” said USCIRF Chair Leonard Leo.
Christians gathered in Cairo’s Coptic Cathedral on Monday, mingling their prayers with shouts for justice, with some attendees chanting “down with military rule” and “the people want to topple the marshal.”
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan federal body which protects the religious freedom of those in foreign countries and aids the U.S. president on decisions concerning religious freedom.
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.”