CAIRO: Egypt’s military police have fired in the air in an attempt to disperse a few hundred Coptic Christians who had entered into a sit-in on Tuesday evening after marching through the streets of Cairo demanding their rights be heard. Protesters also told Bikyamasr.com early Wednesday morning that military police and others had on a number of occasions violently attacked the peaceful protesters.
According to witnesses and protesters in front of the National Television and Radio building, or Maspero, the military fired “live ammunition” into the air to force the Copts to leave the area.
The protest, which began with a few thousands marching from the middle-class area of Shobra through downtown Cairo before reaching the iconic media building, has blocked off the streets leading both ways on the Nile street.
“The military fired into the air and one officer threw one of the crosses we carried onto the ground,” said one witness. “We are scared it could become very, very violent.”
“My family and I joined the march after the burning of the Aswan church and we will continue on protesting until change is done,” Mona, a house wife in her 50s, told Bikyamasr.com.
She added that there is still doubt that “protesting will change much, but it is what we can do now.”
“We are sending a message to the SCAF and the prime minister warning them from the Coptic anger,” Mina Sabet, a member of the political committee of the Maspero Youth Union told Bikyamasr.com.
“The people who toppled the former regime are capable of throwing out the current one,” he added. “It is a series of attacks and we are not sure who is behind them but they have angered Copts much.”
Several men held a cardboard box shaped as a coffin with one side saying it was “Egypt’s funeral.” Another held a sign that said “if a church is burned or tore down, then you are definitely in Egypt.”
After arriving at the Court of Cassation in downtown Cairo, the Copts Without Borders organization decided to not continue with the march to Maspero, and said they would not participate in the planned sit in. The march stopped traffic on the streets leading to the Maspero and checkpoints were erected at both ends, similar to those that marked the entrance to Tahrir Square during the liberal activists’ sit-in during July.
Several riot police trucks soon followed the protesters, but remained at the edge of the street. Priest Flopire Gamel spoke to the crowd and encouraged them to remain non-violent.
“Stay calm and feel safe, it is safe here,” he told the crowd while standing on the back of a pick-up truck. He advised the crowd to not engaged with police or army. “Dont let them drag you into violence,” he said.
He also announced that there would be blankets and food soon to be available for those deciding to stay and told the masses that the decision to stay is not the church’s decision but the people’s, and youth in the crowed started chanting “We are staying, we are staying, we will not leave,” in reply.
The crowd then began chanting a Christian song.
Gamel said the sit-ins are not just in Cairo, but there are “many happening in Sohag, Minya and Alexandria.”
The crowd continued their chanting: “prosecution, prosecution”, “We are the free Copts, we don’t fear gun shots” and “why are silent, justice is not realized.”
The march was not without altercations, as aggressive passersby became obviously angered at the stopping of traffic and pushed their way through the crowds with their vehicles on a number of occasions.
** Manar Ammar contributed to this report.