Violent clashes erupt between Egypt’s Christians, police

By October 11, 2011

Egypt (MNN) — Tension between Muslims and minority Christians have simmered for years. In the
days since the Mubarak revolt, those tensions have erupted numerous times since
the president is no longer able to repress the more Salafist-leaning groups.

Terry Ascott is CEO of SAT-7, a Christian satellite
television ministry to the Middle East and North Africa.  He says the most recent explosion came from
a fairly low-key stimulus. "This
particular one began with a dispute over the height of a reconstructed church,
and ultimately led to the destruction of the church."

It didn't stay small for long. "Christians went into
Tahrir Square and there were a lot of protests. That was met with an unusual
level of violence from the military, from the police–more than we've seen in
recent days, although they have been getting tougher against demonstrators.
That, of course, led to a cycle of violence."

As a result, massive clashes raged over the weekend between
infuriated Christians, Muslims, and Egyptian security forces. 24
people were killed in the violence. Ascott thinks these situations will be a
recurring part of the landscape. "It just reflects the pent-up frustration
and the bad will by a minority of Muslim peoples that want to marginalize
Christians and to keep them 'in their place.'"

That could be especially true with the upcoming vote. "The
big question is: What happens if the elections go ahead in November if the
Salafists get into power, if they use that power to shape the new Constitution
in Egypt so that it is based more on Sharia, on Islamic law?'"

Religious rights watchdog groups have been expressing
concerns like this since the uprisings began at the beginning of the Arab
Spring. Currently, there are some who
blame the country's ruling military council for being too lenient on those
behind a spate of anti-Christian attacks since Mubarak's ouster.

It boils down to being treated as second-class
citizens. Ascott explains, "One of
the key issues here [is that] Christians are being treated as a minority–to be
protected, perhaps, but not to have equal rights with Muslims in the country.
This is, of course, based on the Islamic code, not on the national
Constitution." 

Meanwhile, the leader of the Coptic Church declared three
days of mourning, praying, and fasting for the victims starting today. Naturally, Ascott says, the upheaval has a
dramatic effect on the staff. "It has interrupted programming in the past,
and it's been a 'downer' if you like, psychologically in terms of morale for
our staff, whenever these incidents do take place."

Live television programming shifts into a forum function. "One of the vital roles that we have, I
think, is to allow Christians to call in to live programs and vent their anger
and frustration, and to get a chance to recheck their attitudes and their
perspectives." Ascott says their response is always pointing
people to the Gospel. "We'll have Christian leaders there reminding them
of their calling to be 'salt and light,' to be forgiving, to 'turn the other
cheek,' and to be loving in these situations."

In the days ahead, their team in Cairo asks prayer for
wisdom as they cope with the uncertainties.
Pray for boldness for them and insight for how to present the peace of
Christ clearly.   

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