Worries over worse to come after sectarian violence explodes during crackdown on Christian protest in Cairo.
|Egypt’s interim prime minister has called for calm and warned against ‘sowing the seeds of division’ [Al Jazeera]|
Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] has called for a speedy investigation into Sunday night’s deadly clashes in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, that left at least 26 dead and more than 300 injured, mostly Coptic Christians.
The SCAF “tasked the government with quickly forming a fact finding committee to determine what happened and take legal measures against all those proven to have been involved, either directly or by incitement,” state television reported.
At an emergency meeting held on Monday, the military council also reiterated that it “continues to bear national responsibility to protect the people after the January 25 revolution… until it hands power to an elected civilian authority”.
It blamed the clashes on “efforts by some to destroy the pillars of the state and sow chaos” and said it would “take the necessary measures to restore the security situation”.
Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros said the military council’s demand for a probe was good news for Egyptians.
“The very fact that the investigation has been called for, is at least some good news for people here, who feel that military has not been interested in finding out who is behind the events of Sunday night,” said said.
Sunday’s clashes were the worst violence since the country’s revolution in February that toppled long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak.
The violence erupted after Coptic Christians, protesting against the destruction of a church in the southern province of Aswan, came under attack.
On Monday, funerals were being held for many of those who died. Also during the day, several hundred angry Christians pelted police with rocks outside a Cairo hospital, despite calls from Essam Sharaf, Egypt’s interim prime minister, for calm.
“Instead of advancing to build a modern state of democratic principles, we are back searching for security and stability, worrying that there are hidden hands, both domestic and foreign, seeking to obstruct the will of Egyptians in establishing a democracy,” Sharaf said on state television.
Dozens of people have been detained in connection with Sunday’s violence, with MENA, the country’s official news agency, saying that “instigators of chaos” had been arrested.
Egypt’s Coptic church has called for three days of mourning, asking followers to fast and pray for peace in the country.
‘Stoking sectarian tensions’
Some blamed the deaths on execessive use of force by the Egyptian army.
Hossam Bahgat, from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told Al Jazeera that Sunday night’s clashes were unprecedented.
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“There is nothing like what we saw yesterday, because it was the army,” he said. “For the first time [the Christians] are not being attacked by Muslim extremists or police security forces, but by the army. We don’t understand why the army resorted to such measures.
“There needs to be an independent investigation into the attacks, and it should not be carried out by the army.”
Al Jazeera’s Tadros said the Coptic Church issued a statement stating that Copts had not fired any shots on Sunday night and were not the instigators.
“That’s really in reference to continued coverage on state TV which through the night and even through morning, very much had a shuttle message to it, trying to tell general people that Christians were the ones behind the violence and that they were the ones shooting at soldiers,” she said
“In fact, state TV was talking about the soldiers who had died as “martyrs” and protesters who were killed as “civilians”, she said.
“So, it was sending a very potent message, and the fear here is that kind of reporting and message out to millions of people who tune into state TV will stoke sectarian tensions.”
Christians, who make up about 10 per cent of Egypt’s roughly 80 million people, took to the streets after blaming Muslim radicals for partially demolishing the church last week.
They also demanded the sacking of the province’s governor for failing to protect the building.
The Copts say they were marching peacefully when thugs attacked them, drawing in the military police who used what activists described as unnecessary force.