Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Egypt: army faces crisis over killing of Christian protesters as deputy prime minister resigns in protest

As violence raged across the Egyptian capital on Sunday night, the photograph of a woman clutching the hand of her dead fiance in a Cairo morgue was the most striking of many portraits of the perils facing the country's Christian minority.

By Richard Spencer, Middle East Correspondent

6:48PM BST 11 Oct 2011

By on Tuesday, the internet and the social networking site Twitter were circulating before-and-after images of the couple, comparing the picture taken in the morgue with one taken on the day just two months ago when they announced their engagement.

"They were going to get married in two months' time," said Noov Senary, a friend of the couple who identified them to The Daily Telegraph as Michael Mosaad and Viviane Magdy, both Coptic Christians. "Michael died on Sunday. When I got to the morgue, Viviane was already there."

The army, which has run Egypt since the downfall of President Hosni Mubarak, is facing its worst crisis yet over its role in the violence, which began when Christians staged a march to the state television station in the centre of the city.

The station initially broadcast appeals for help for the army, saying it had come under attack from an armed mob of Christians who had killed three soldiers.

Almost immediately that story began to unravel, as it became clear that it was the Christians, protesting peacefully, who had first been attacked by a mob many accuse of being instigated by either the army or supporters of Mr Mubarak.

The army then over-reacted dramatically, shooting at protesters and driving army vehicles over them, scenes caught on video posted online. At least 25 people, mostly Christians, were killed.

On Tuesday, Hazem el-Beblawi, the finance minister and deputy prime minister, resigned in protest at what had happened. The army said it would use the "full weight of the law" against trouble-makers without responding to criticism of its own role.

The violence has outraged the country's Coptic minority. Its head, Pope Shenouda, issued a rare statement condemning the government, while after a midnight funeral attended by 20,000 people mourners marched to Tahrir Square with the body of Mina Danial, an activist who had taken part in the anti-Mubarak protests earlier this year.

He had told friends that he wanted to be buried on the square, the most redolent single symbol of the "Arab Spring".

Mr Mosaad and Miss Magdy were researchers on a project run by the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights monitoring media coverage of next month's parliamentary elections.

Miss Senary, who works for the same organisation, said she and Mr Mosaad were taking part in the march on Sunday, which was being staged in protest at the burning of a new church in southern Egypt.

"I was told on my phone by my manager that Michael had been killed," she said. "I went to the hospital and saw Viviane there." Both he and Mr Danial had been hit by an army patrol vehicle.

Other witnesses said that as the photographers took her picture, Miss Magdy, weeping in a room that held the bodies of five other dead Christians, refused to leave. Yesterday she posted an entry on one of several Facebook pages dedicated to the memories of Mr Danial and her fiance.

"They had known each other for a long time, but they were still so young," Miss Senary said.


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