Deadly Protests Following Church Burning; Int’l. Women’s Day March Attacked

March 8, 2011 . By

Today, a deadly episode of violence between 1,300 Christians and Muslims in Cairo left 14 persons dead, 140 injured and five cars burnt. The confrontation between the two groups took place amid ongoing protests over a church set ablaze in Atfeeh, Helwan on March 6. A security source stated that “[today’s] fighting erupted when a group of Christians blocked a main highway [the Autostrad] south of Cairo and clashed with Muslims who wanted to pass through.” The conflict between the two groups escalated to “throwing stones and Molotov cocktails” at one another. One Christian individual was shot dead, but it was not clear whether he was shot by the security forces or other protesters. Witnesses added that the security forces’ attempt to break up the riot was not immediately successful.

The attack on the church in Helwan was reportedly sparked by a taboo relationship “between a young Muslim woman and a young Coptic man … [which] led [to] a mob attack on the church [and] Coptic homes in the village.” The head of the ruling military council, Mohamed Tantawi, stated that “the army would rebuild the church before the Easter holidays.”

Also today, Egyptian activists both male and female called for a “Million Woman March” in honor of International Women’s Day. The demonstration, which was meant to serve as a peaceful approach to voicing concerns about gender inequality and women’s rights in Egypt, featured speakers calling for “harsher punishments against sexual harassment…fairer representation in Parliament…and for a woman to stand for Egypt’s presidency.” Ultimately, however, the protest erupted into a public show of violence against women.

As the women’s rights activists massed in Tahrir Square, another group of male protesters gathered nearby to disrupt the gathering. The activists chanted “Men and women, one hand; Muslim and Christian, one hand;” the opposing group reportedly countered with “No, no, the people want women to step down; the Quran is our ruler.”

Eventually, the opposition to the activists by what Ahram described as “thugs” turned violent. Following verbal attacks on the protesters, the male counterdemonstrators “rushed aggressively upon the [protesters], pushing violently through the rows of women.” Female protesters relayed accounts of sexual assaults committed during the incident.