Sectarian violence in Egypt

As in recent similar cases in Bangkok and Nazareth, the attacks on religious targets in Alexandria are being dismissed as the work of a “mentally disturbed” loner. Could be (although note that in this case there were three near-simultaneous attacks). But (as we argued before) even the choice of targets by the proverbial lone nut reflects a general zeitgeist—and the response to the attacks is assuredly political. “Fanatics”? Certainly. But why are there so many fanatics in the world these days? (They are, of course, asking the same question in Delhi right now.) From AP, April 15:

ALEXANDRIA – Egyptian police have arrested 15 people in the aftermath of sectarian clashes in Alexandria the Interior Ministry said were instigated by “fanatics” who “duped” people into participating.

Fights broke out among several hundred Coptic Christians and Muslims at the end of the funeral procession for Nushi Atta Girgis, 78, who was slain Friday outside Saints church in the Mediterranean city following a prayer service.

Police arrested “some fanatic extremist elements who provoked skirmishes and threw stones at each other,” said a statement Saturday from the Interior Ministry. It said the detainees, who included Copts and Muslims, “went too far” when they set two cars on fire and damaged several shops.

Some 15 people were injured and security forces used tear gas to disperse the disturbance in the Sidi Bishr district where the Saints church is located, said the statement. It did not elaborate on the condition of the wounded.

Saturday night, security forces were deployed around the district to maintain calm.

The clashes followed knife attacks at three churches in Alexandria on Friday that left up to 16 wounded. Although it was Good Friday for many of the world’s Christians, the Copts and other Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Easter a week later.

Earlier Saturday, about 3,000 people gathered at Saints church to mourn Girgis and church leaders blasted the government for its failure to protect Egypt’s Christian minority.

The Interior Ministry statement did not distinguish between Muslims and Christians in blaming clashes on “fanatics” and saying those who participated had been “duped.”

Police earlier said the clashes were sparked by Copts who had attacked and provoked Muslims.

A Coptic doctor at the nearby St. Mark’s hospital, who was not at the scene of the clashes, said he was told Muslim passers-by were angered by the slogans protesters shouted.

“There was sort of a clash and some people were injured,” Dr. Girgis Fawzi said.

“We received one young Christian with minor injuries. He was treated and left the hospital.”

An official at al-Meery Hospital in Alexandria said the facility had received five people with minor injuries after the clashes.

“Most of them were people stabbed by knives,” the hospital official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

But not all the wounds were minor. A priest at St. George church, one of the locations of the Friday stabbings, said one young man involved in Saturday’s clashes had serious knife wounds to his arm, abdomen and head.

“If he dies it will be a disaster,” he said.

The man’s condition could not be independently confirmed.

A statement by the church leaders in Alexandria denounced Friday’s stabbings and blamed the government for not doing enough to protect the churches. It also accused the Interior Ministry of fabricating reports that only one mentally disturbed man was behind the three attacks.

See our last post on Egypt, and on Muslim-Coptic violence.