Thousands rally for Egypt unity after church attacks


Thousands of people rallied in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday calling for national unity, after attacks on Egyptian churches, and for solidarity with the Palestinians. Some held up crosses and others waved Palestinian flags as the numbers swelled in Cairo’s iconic square, the epicentre of protests that overthrew president Hosni Mubarak in February after an 18-day uprising.
“If you attack a Christian, you’re attacking all Egyptians,” said one man delivering a speech at a podium. “The churches attacked in Imbaba are not less than the mosques attacked in Jerusalem,” he said, linking the two themes of Friday’s protest. “National unity was there during the revolt but the remnants of the old regime want to destroy the country,” said Ahmed Muhanna, who wore a green headband bearing the words “the army of Mohammed.”
But most Coptic protesters stayed away from Tahrir, choosing instead to gather in front of the nearby state television building, where Christians have staged a sit-in since clashes on Saturday. The thousands of Coptic protesters outside the state television building held wooden crosses and chanted against hardline Islamist fundamentalists.
“We are going to church to pray, no matter what happens to us,” they chanted. Fifteen people were killed in the weekend violence after Muslims surrounded a church in Cairo demanding the handover of a woman they said Christians had detained after she converted to Islam and left her Christian husband to marry a Muslim. The Muslims also set fire to a second church. The woman who sparked the clashes was arrested on Thursday, along with the Muslim man said to be her husband.
She is accused of having more than one husband, a judicial source said. The unrest threatened to drive Egypt’s often tense religious tensions to the brink, prompting the military to arrest more than 200 people it said will swiftly be tried. Activists had called for a mass show of unity on Friday, which has become a regular day of protest after the weekly Muslim prayers at noon.
The demonstrators in Tahrir waved Palestinian flags as they listened to speeches denouncing Israel and chanted in support of Palestinians. A cleric who gave the Friday sermon accused Arab rulers of “selling” the Palestinians in order to keep their positions. An Egyptian peace treaty with Israel is widely unpopular among Egyptians because of the Jewish state’s policies towards Palestinians.