(Photo: Rex Features via AP Images)
Christian protesters who were calling for government protection in Egypt were attacked over the weekend.
The attacks came just a day after Egypt's military government had vowed to tighten security amid growing fears among the country's small Christian population. Just a week earlier, two churches were burned and at least four Christians were killed in sectarian clashes between Coptic Christians and Muslims.
The latest violence erupted late Saturday as hundreds of Christians were demonstrating in Cairo, demanding protection following the previous week's clashes.
Gasoline bombs and rocks were hurled at the protesters. The opposing mob also fired shots and burned cars.
No deaths were reported though some were injured. Muslims were also wounded in the clashes as some Christians were armed.
According to The Los Angeles Times, riot police did not respond immediately to the violence and instead stood by. It was about an hour later when they brought soldiers with them to contain the violence.
It's been three months now since Mubarak resigned in response to the anti-government protests that other North African and Middle Eastern countries were seeing as well. Though there was little protection under the Mubarak regime, the Coptic Christian community is fearful of increasing persecution, especially with Islamic militants and more conservative Muslims looking to shape the new government.
“The Christians are under organized attack by Muslim extremists, who have been emboldened since the fall of President Mubarak," said Open Doors USA President and CEO Dr. Carl Moeller. "And the army and security forces have been slow to respond to the attacks."
Open Doors ranks Egypt as No. 19 in its list of the worst persecutors of Christians.
"We need to be in prayer for these believers and for their persecutors, that the Lord would soften their hearts,” Moeller urged.
This year, for the first time, Egypt was named as a country of particular concern – a label given to the world's worst violators of religious freedom – by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The U.S. body called out Egypt for "systemic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom" and cited the January extremist bombing of a Coptic church that killed 23 people.
USCIRF Chair Leonard Leo criticized the Egyptian government for tolerating the severe violations and further denounced the Obama administration for not taking an active role in religious freedom around the world.
Christians, who make up eight to 12 percent of the Egyptian population, have expressed anger and frustration at the lack of protection from the government.
With sit-ins turning violent, however, the head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Shenouda III, has urged believers to end protests.
"[T]he protest is now no longer about expressing your opinion and has been infiltrated by those who use different means than the ones you use,” the pope said, according to The New York Times. "The patience of the rulers is starting to end, and you will be the losers if you continue in the protest."
Despite the warnings, some Coptic Christians have continued to stand outside the state TV building to demonstrate for government protection.