Attempts to Cool Tensions Between Muslims, Christians in Egypt Met With Skepticism

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi calls Coptic pope to express regret over confrontation outside Cairo cathedral, promising an investigation into bring those responsible to justice.

The latest reports from Cairo on Monday point to a cooling down in the violent confrontations that broke out between hundreds of Coptic Christians, Egyptian police, and supporters of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood. But the fighting, which broke out on Sunday evening and continued into Monday morning – killing two Egyptians and wounding 86 – has left Copts feeling that Egypt's new Islamic leadership is failing to protect them.

The conflict erupted amid a funeral procession on Sunday in the central Coptic cathedral in Cairo's al-Abbaseya quarter. The procession was held for four Copts killed in earlier confrontations between Coptic Christians and Muslims that took place in the city of al-Khosous, north of Cairo.

At the end of the funeral procession on Sunday, according to Coptic activists, dozens of youths gathered at the entrance of the church and planned to march toward the Egyptian defense ministry to demand that the Egyptian army work harder to defend the country's Copts and their property. Before the procession began, Molotov cocktails were thrown at the demonstrators, leading to the eruption of violence between police and groups identified with the Muslim Brotherhood. Over the course of the confrontations, the gates of the cathedral were broken open.

Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi later called the head of the Coptic church, Pope Tawadros II, to convey his condolences and attempted to calm the situation. Morsi told Tawadros that he would consider any damage done to the church as a personal affront to him and his office, and declared that he had instructed the authorities to open an investigation immediately to bring those responsible to justice.

Anba Moussa, who is known by his title of Archbishop for Youth Affairs among the Coptic population, said that the sectarian tensions that exist in Egypt necessitate a political, diplomatic and security effort – in addition to intensive social activism – to prevent the spread of the violence that could destabilize Egypt. He also stated that security forces hadn't acted appropriately and failed to prevent the assailants from carrying out their attack on the church. He even claimed security forces, sympathizing with the Brotherhood's rabble-rousers, had fired tear gas into the cathedral's premises.

While Al-Azhar University, the leading Sunni Muslim religious institution in the country, and Egypt's Grand Mufti, the religious leader of the country's Sunni Muslim population, called on all sides for calm, senior officials in the Coptic Church issued calls supporting the removal of Morsi from power and disparaging the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. They criticized attempts made by the Brotherhood to take control of state institutions, which has led to the disintegration of Egypt's social fabric and security – the results of which are being paid first and foremost by Egypt's Coptic population.