Coptic Christians are blaming Egypt’s security forces for the brutish violence used during peaceful protests in Cairo, according to an Open Doors USA press release.
“The Christian community is shocked about the violence that erupted in Cairo on Sunday,” read the press release.
“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 while attended a funeral presided over by Pope Shenouda III.
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.
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.
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 on Monday to discuss peace and compromise.
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."
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.”
Sunday’s 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,” not the military.
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.
Coptic Pope Shenouda III has implemented a three day mourning period of fasting and prayers beginning Wednesday to honor those 26 killed and over 200 wounded. Copts around the world, including the 300,000 expats whom inhabit the U.S., 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 Dr. Carl Moeller, President/CEO of Open Doors USA.
Open Doors USA seeks to support and strengthen Christians practicing in oppressive countries.
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.”