I received this email on October 16 from a nameless pastor friend in Egypt. It is now a few days outdated because I had to obtain his permission to post it. But it still pertinent to help understand what happened on October 9 in Cairo, and possible blessings that may come from this tragedy.
The demonstration on Sunday (10/9) was mostly made up of Coptic Christians, plus a few moderate Muslims. They were asking the government to defend their basic human rights, especially in regards to Muslims in Aswan attacking a church, as the army has done nothing to protect Christians that have come under attack by Muslims.
There are two stories about what happened that day. One of the stories that we are getting from the people from our church that were in the demonstration is that when the demonstration started there were a few hundred people there, but then another big demonstration marched from Shobra to the TV station. When these two demonstrations joined together, the army decided suddenly to disperse the demonstration. The army started to use its tanks and armored vehicles to push the crowds back. When they did that, some people were injured and killed, so the demonstrators started attacking the army – jumping on the tanks, throwing rocks from the street, using any sticks or anything they could find. The army started shooting firing mostly into the air, but it seems some of the shots were aimed at the crowd. It suddenly became a big mess, and it seems like at this point some ruffians came and started shooting at the army with guns – these men were wearing civilian clothes but it seems they were criminals. That is the story we think is closest to the truth, and the video footage we’ve seen supports this perspective.
The story the army is spreading is that some people in the demonstration started shooting at the army or throwing rocks and then the army had to defend themselves. It was a big number of people, so when the tanks moved they started hitting some people. The army also said that some of the demonstrators stole the tanks, and these were the people who were running into the crowds.
In my opinion, regardless of which story is true, the army is a part of this big mess that happened in front of the TV building that day. Secondly, what the national TV said was also a huge mistake – although I don’t think it is a mistake as it seems it was intentional – when they told people to go and defend the army and told the public that 3 people died and 10s were injured from the army. Muslims already have a lot of animosity towards Christians so this made them move quickly to attack Christians in the street.
Another thing is that the army has still not come out and said clearly if or how many soldiers actually died on October 9th – their statement to the public was that they don’t want to say how many died, as they don’t want it to affect the moral of the other soldiers. Obviously I can and have said that 24 people died and more than 300 were wounded. Out of these 24, 7 were killed by head-on gunshots, and the bullet did not stay inside any of them, which means they were either shot at very close range or it was a highly powered machine that fired the bullets. Obviously these were military weapons. 13 or 14 were run over by the tanks and this was the cause of their death.
So this is the sequence of events from our perspective. Right now the situation is calm. There is no fighting going on between Christians and Muslims. The government is trying to apply the law that gives Christians the same rights when it comes to building a place of worship that Muslims have. Second, they said that if Christians were “forced” to build a place for worship illegally because they weren’t able to get a license, the government will now try to legalize it. This is one of the main points of tension between Muslims and Christians, especially in recent days. The Aswan incident happened for this reason.
The government passed a new law today against religious discrimination, saying that if this happens the accused will be put in jail and forced to pay 30,000LE or up to 100,000LE. This applies to anyone in the government that shows religious discrimination. We feel that through this the government is trying to do something, but that’s usually what happens in situations like this – the government makes a lot of promises and then it’s hard to say what they will live up to.
The tension between Muslims and Christians is still there, but things are quiet so far. A lot of writers and talk shows are working on this and trying to calm things down. At this point, a lot of human rights groups and Christians are trying to prove what the army did was wrong and that they are not handling the country well and have to leave soon. This is the main political battle right now. Time will tell how the army handles this movement from Christians, human rights groups, and other parties standing against the army now – what will they do about this? Step back and realize that they need to leave earlier than later, or keep on trying to maintain control over the country. In my opinion, it seems the army wants to stay in power at all costs.
Please continue to pray for the Christians in Egypt. They are only about 10% of the population. Pray that the government will indeed give rights to Christians to meet when and where they want to, without fear of attack, with proper protection from Muslims.
*photo from HuffingtonPost.com. For their report of the incident, go to http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/09/egypt-christian-protesters_n_1002390.html#s398469