CAIRO (AP) ― Thousands of Christians and Muslims clashed Tuesday, with one Christian man killed and scores wounded as anger rose over the burning of a church in a Cairo suburb.
It was the second burst of sectarian fighting in as many days and the latest in a string of violent protests over a variety of topics as simmering unrest continues nearly a month after mass protests led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
The violence erupted after Coptic Christians held protests in several locations in Cairo against perceived persecution by the country’s Muslim majority.
The Christians have been angered by last week’s burning by a Muslim mob of a church in a Cairo suburb. Egypt’s military rulers have since pledged to rebuild the church and Prime Minister Essam Sharaf met Monday with the protesters outside the TV building. But the protesters said they wanted more steps to improve the status of Christians.
About 2,000 of them cut off a main road running on the eastern side of the city and pelted motorists with rocks. Another crowd of about 1,000 protested outside the TV building in downtown Cairo.
The group which included a group of garbage collectors, who are predominantly Christian, demanded equal rights and better quality of life. The clashes broke out when they were confronted by Muslims, witnesses said.
At least one Christian man was killed and about 100 others wounded in the fighting, according to an Egyptian hospital official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to release the information.
Elsewhere in Cairo, a protest by hundreds of Egyptian women demanding equal rights and an end to sexual harassment turned violent Tuesday when crowds of men heckled and shoved the demonstrators, telling them to go home where they belong.
Even before Egypt’s uprising unleashed a torrent of discontent, tensions had been growing between Christians and Muslims in the country.
Egyptian Coptic Christians demonstrate outside the state radio and television building in central Cairo on Tuesday, to protest the burning of a church last week after deadly clashes between Christians and Muslims in Sol in Atfeeh, a city south of the capital. (AFP-Yonhap News)
On New Year’s Day, a suicide bombing outside a Coptic church in the port city of Alexandria killed 21 people, setting off days of protests. Barely a week later, an off-duty policeman boarded a train and shot dead a 71-year-old Christian man and wounding his wife and four others.
Also Tuesday, an Egyptian court rejected an appeal by Mubarak and his family against a top prosecutor’s move to seize funds that could total in the billions of dollars. The decision clears the way for a criminal investigation and a possible trial of Egypt’s former leader.
Mubarak, his wife, two sons and their wives have also been banned from travel abroad.
Judicial officials described the court decision on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
During the pro-democracy uprising, unconfirmed reports that Mubarak and his family might have amassed billions, or even tens of billions of dollars, over their three decades in power, fueled protesters already enraged over massive corruption and poverty in Egypt.
Mubarak, top leaders of his one-time ruling party and other cronies, as well as the powerful military have all profited richly from the corrupt system while nearly half of Egypt’s 80 million people live under or near the poverty line set by the World bank at $2 a day.
Mubarak, 82, is suspected of turning a blind eye to corruption by family members and their associates, while many of the allegations of wrongdoing centered on the business activity of his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, as well as Gamal’s wife and her family.
Unlike other Arab leaders, particularly those in the oil-rich Gulf nations, Mubarak was far from ostentatious. Whatever wealth he and his family may have had was rarely ― if ever ― flaunted. But that did not stop Egyptians from swapping stories about the size of their wealth and the allegedly corrupt methods they used to amass it.
The most prominent symbol of their presumed fortune that has surfaced was a town house in London’s exclusive Knightsbridge district, which is listed under Gamal Mubarak’s name and where he was said to have lived while working as an investment banker in the early 1990s. The town house has become a focal point for many in Egypt as foreign governments begin to either enact, or consider freezing the family’s assets.
Gamal Mubarak was the ousted leader’s one-time heir apparent, although they never confirmed the plan and remained evasive on the topic almost until the very end. The younger Mubarak rose rapidly through the ranks of his father’s National Democratic Party, or NDP, over the past decade to become the country’s most powerful politician after the president.
In the NDP, Gamal Mubarak surrounded himself with mega-rich businessmen who sought political careers to promote their business interests. Between them, they introduced far-reaching economic reforms that benefited the businessmen. But any prosperity Egypt ever enjoyed never trickled to the impoverished majority.
Several of those businessmen are now in prison and subject to criminal investigations as the ruling military pushes ahead with a campaign to cleanse the country from the corruption of the ousted regime.
Alaa Mubarak’s wealth had been the subject of much speculation well before the political rise of his younger brother. There are allegations that he used the family name to muscle in on profitable enterprises, taking a cut of profits without contributing to the funds invested or work done.