3:00pm

Mon October 10, 2011
World

Egyptian Christians Hold Funeral For Victims Of Clash

Ormany Makary's coffin teetered precariously as throngs of mourners carried the 25-year-old truck driver's body to the front of Abbasiya Cathedral, chanting "Raise up your head, you are Copts!"

But his fiancee, Saafa Gaber, couldn't.

Makary was among the 25 people killed in a night of clashes between mostly Coptic Christian protesters and Egyptian soldiers.

Gaber, 17, says she doesn't feel anything anymore except for the loss of her only love, who was fatally shot after heading to the state television headquarters along the Nile River on Sunday with thousands of other Christian protesters.

They had planned a sit-in to demand protection from attacks by radical Muslims, including on a church and homes in the southern tourist city of Aswan. But the protesters were mobbed by people wielding rocks and glass bottles. Soldiers and police officers then intervened.

Gaber says she warned her fiance not to go, but that he didn't listen.

"Take me to him, take me to him," she cries out to relatives who bury her in hugs. Her sorrow is shared by many black-clad mourners who pack the cathedral grounds. But the grief of most here has turned to rage.

Outside the cathedral, angry mourners call Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi a foreign spy. They accuse the top military ruler and Egypt's international allies of trying to get rid of Egypt's Christians.

The anger is just as palpable at the Coptic hospital, where most of the victims were taken.

The rising anger worries activists like Hossam Bahgat, who heads the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. He says there hasn't been this kind of attack against Copts here in the nearly 10 years his group has tracked such violence.

He says state television and the other independent news channels showed video footage of what appeared to be army vehicles deliberately chasing Coptic protesters and running over them, resulting "in a sense of extreme anger, resentment and estrangement also that we have not seen before among the Coptic community in Egypt."

Bahgat and others says it's also worrying that the Egyptian government appears to be pinning the blame for Sunday night's clashes on the protesters.

Last night on state TV, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf suggested the protesters were trying to bring down the Egyptian nation.

Analysts say such accusations only widen the rift between the majority Muslims and minority Copts here, whose relationship is already tense.

Mohammed Tolba, a conservative Muslim and founder of a religious group called Salafyo Costa Movement, claims the rift only benefits Egypt's current rulers.

"They are the only guys benefiting from this — from extending emergency law, from staying in control in the country, from giving some sort of reasons to the West, especially the United States — that 'I cannot apply democracy because the people there are not ready for democracy,'" he says.

A growing number of Egyptians, meanwhile, are calling for an independent investigation into the clashes. They believe Egyptian military officials cannot be trusted to investigate their own.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

In Cairo today, the Coptic Christian community buried its dead, that's after violent clashes last night between protesters and Egyptian soldiers that left 25 people dead and nearly 300 wounded. The mostly Christian protesters had marched to the state television headquarters with one demand, that the country's military rulers protect them from attacks by radical Muslims. Now, Christian mourners are lashing out at those rulers, calling them killers. And as NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Cairo, many Egyptians feared these clashes and their aftermath could tear the country apart.

(SOUNDBITE OF RIOTING)

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Ormany Makary's coffin teetered precariously as throngs of mourners carried the 25-year-old truck driver's body to the front of Abbassia Cathedral. They chanted, raise up your head. You are Copts. But his fiance, Saafa Gaber, couldn't.

SAAFA GABER: (Speaking in foreign language).

NELSON: The 17-year-old says she doesn't feel anything anymore except for the loss of her only love. He was fatally shot after heading to the state television headquarters with thousands of other Christian protesters. They had planned a sit-in to demand protection from attacks by radical Muslims, including on a church and homes in the southern tourist city of Aswan, but the protesters were mobbed by people wielding rocks and glass bottles. Soldiers and policemen then intervened. Gaber says she warned her fiance not to go but that he didn't listen.

GABER: (Speaking in foreign language).

NELSON: Take me to him. Take me to him, she cries out to relatives who buried her in hugs. Her sorrow is shared by many black-clad mourners who packed the cathedral grounds, but the grief of most here has turned to rage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking in foreign language)

NELSON: Outside the cathedral, angry mourners called Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi a foreign spy. They accused the top military ruler and Egypt's international allies of trying to get rid of Egypt's Christians. The anger is just as palpable at the Coptic Hospital where most of the victims were taken. Volunteers take the name of victim on the coffins.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking in foreign language).

NELSON: Nearby, a nurse curses Tantawi and calls him a terrorist. The rising anger worries activists like Hossam Bahgat, who heads the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. He says there's never been this kind of attack against Copts here in the nearly 10 years his group has tracked such violence.

HOSSAM BAHGAT EGYPTIAN INITIATIVE FOR PERSONAL RIGHTS: The fact also that state television and other independent news channels showed video footage of what appeared to be army vehicles deliberately chasing Coptic protesters and running over a number of them, killing a number of them, resulted in a sense of extreme anger, resentment and estrangement also that we have not seen before among the Coptic community in Egypt.

NELSON: He and others say it's also worrying that the Egyptian government appears to be pinning the blame for Sunday night's clashes on the protesters.

PRIME MINISTER ESSAM SHARAF: (Speaking in foreign language)

NELSON: Last night on state TV, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf suggested the protesters were trying to bring down the Egyptian nation. Analysts say such accusations only widen the rift between the majority Muslims and minority Copts here, whose relationship is already tense. Mohammed Tolba, a conservative Muslim and founder of a religious group called Salafiyo Costa Movement, claims the rift only benefits Egypt's current rulers.

MOHAMMED TOLBA: They are the only guys benefiting from this, from extending the emergency law, from staying in control of the country, from giving some sort of reasons to the West - especially the United States - that I cannot apply democracy because the people there are not ready for democracy.

NELSON: A growing number of Egyptians, meanwhile, are calling for an independent investigation into Sunday night's deadly clashes. They believe Egyptian military officials cannot be trusted to investigate their own. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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