Egypt’s cabinet asked the interior minister to “confront acts that violate the law” in the southern province of Qena, where protesters, some blocking a railway line, are demanding the resignation of a Christian governor.
In a faxed statement, the cabinet said it can’t stay “silent” about events that “undermine public security” and obstruct public services. Blocking the railroad is “unacceptable” and the government will “take all measures” to end the protests, which cost the country 1 million Egyptian pounds (about $168,000) in losses a day, the state-run Middle East News Agency said, citing Ahmed El Simman, media counselor to the prime minister.
In the latest sign of sectarian tensions, demonstrations have been staged in Qena since last week against the recent appointment of a Christian, Emad Mikhail, as governor.
“A non-Muslim should not rule over Muslims,” Mohammed Hamza, a 29-year-old who has been participating in the demonstrations, said in a telephone interview from Qena. “This guy could be shot at if he shows up here.”
Some Christians also took part in the protests against Mikhail’s appointment because they were unhappy with the policies of Mikhail’s predecessor, also a Christian, Hamza said.
Protesters have said they object to Mikhail’s appointment because he is a former senior police officer and they want a civilian governor.
Christians make up an estimated 10 percent of Egypt’s population. Recent protests contrast a generally peaceful coexistence between Christians and the Muslim majority.