✚ Egypt's Christians fear 'a season of blood'

Egypt's Christians fear 'a season of blood'

Betsy Hiel, reporting for the Pittsburg Tribune, on Salafists spreading terror among Copts just on the outskirts of Cairo. 

CAIRO — In the Shubra El Kheima section of this sprawling capital’s outskirts, a herd of goats and three rail-thin horses pick through garbage piles.

Rattling old cars and exhaust-belching buses honk at darting three-wheeled “tuc-tuc” taxis.

On a narrow dirt street, four police officers guard brick pillars rising from the mud.

This was going to be a Coptic Christian community center — until ultra-Islamist Salafis seized it and declared it a Muslim mosque, according to Emad El Erian, a spokesman for a Coptic rights organization.

“They threatened to burn some of the Coptic houses in the neighborhood,” he said.

Salafis occupied the site every night until a prosecutor ruled that the land belonged to the Copts and ordered a police guard, local residents say.

“It’s as if (they) are challenging the police, the government and the general prosecutor, and that they want to drag the Coptic Christians into sectarian violence, a season of blood,” El Erian said.

Last week’s incident was the latest attack on Egypt’s Christian minority — but not the week’s only one: A veiled woman sheared a Christian girl’s hair in Cairo’s subway.

Such attacks — like crime in general — have risen in number and intensity since last year’s ouster of dictator Hosni Mubarak. Christian churches, homes and shops have been looted or torched; Christians have been forced to flee some villages.

The situation seems to contradict President Obama’s assertion in the Oct. 22 presidential debate that Egyptian officials must “take responsibility for protecting religious minorities, and we have put significant pressure on them to make sure they’re doing that.”

That is the real question — why is the government not arresting them? Like in Tunisia where the government drags its feet in arresting Salafis who torch liquor stores, there is too much hesitation. The state needs to come down on its people with its full weight, prosecute them to the full extent of the law, and go after the preachers who incite this kind of violence.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.