Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi faced growing turmoil as clashes between Muslims and Christians led to another death after a religious service held for four Copts killed in violence in the previous two days.
The unrest, compounded by a train strike and Egypt’s top judicial body saying it favors the departure of the prosecutor-general that Mursi appointed, added to the chaos that has convulsed Egypt since his election in June. Mursi is under assault from an array of critics frustrated that Egypt has seen little of the economic or political revival hoped for after he took office.
Coptic Christians and unknown individuals clashed in Cairo today outside St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, where services were being held for four Christians killed in fighting yesterday and the day before, the Egyptian weekend. In today’s melee, one person died and 23 people were injured, Mohamed Sultan, head of the Egyptian ambulance service, said by phone.
Fighting during the national weekend in the Greater Cairo town of Khosous, which also left a Muslim dead, marked the deadliest sectarian violence in months, and added a layer of divisiveness in the country at a time of spiraling inflation, fuel shortages and deepening poverty.
“Leave!” some protesters chanted in reference to Mursi, echoing the calls that drove his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, from office during the 2011 uprising. Others, in between sobs, yelled: “Down, down, with the Murshid’s rule!” a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood’s general guide, Mohammed Badie. Others shouted slogans dubbing Mursi a “puppet president.” The Muslim Brotherhood fielded Mursi as a candidate for the presidency.
Reports about what triggered the fighting in Khosous were contradictory. One account by local police held that Christian boys were caught defacing the outside wall of a mosque. The president’s office issued a statement condemning the violence and deploring any attempts to polarize the nation.
Cairo police Major Mohamed Hassan said by phone that residents of the neighborhood housing St. Mark’s Cathedral hurled rocks and bottles at mourners as they left the service today. Copts at the scene said that as they left the church, they were assaulted with rocks. The state-run Middle East News Agency and Ahram Gate news website said the attackers were unidentified.
Some worshipers retreated back inside the church, Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher who monitors religious freedom at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said by phone.
“Security forces have been very unresponsive since the start of this,” he said. “We never know who is behind any of the sectarian incidents.”
Authorities opened an investigation into other weekend violence in Cairo and elsewhere, a move that may lead to new allegations against Mursi’s opponents. Last month, authorities angered the opposition and drew criticism from the U.S. by issuing an arrest warrant against a local satirist, accusing him of insulting the president and Islam.
Mursi’s attempts to consolidate his power have also put him into repeated conflict with Egypt’s judiciary, which accuses him of trying to usurp its powers for the benefit of the Muslim Brotherhood movement.
Today, the Supreme Judicial Council urged top prosecutor Talaat Abdullah to abide by a court ruling annulling his appointment, MENA reported. The comment marked one of the strongest yet from the judiciary since the court’s decision in March sparked new unrest. Removing Abdullah, which the council said would help to restore unity in the judiciary, has been a main demand of Egypt’s secular opposition.
The strike by train drivers and conductors that paralyzed most of the nation’s railway system offered the latest example of chronic protests that have dogged Mursi’s rule.
Authorities referred striking workers for investigation so legal action could be taken against them, Hussein Zakariya, the head of the country’s railway authority, told MENA.