May 16, 2011
In Cairo, Egypt on the night of May 8th, Muslims and Christian Copts once again clashed in the working class neighborhood of Imbaba. There were at least 12 deaths and 260 wounded in the violence that followed the burning of two Christian churches in the area.
Unfortunately, violent anti-Copt attacks aren’t new. On New Years Eve, in another poor neighborhood of Cairo, with a majority of Copts, six Copts were killed. Several dozen more were wounded by an attack carried out by hoodlums and Salafists, Muslim fundamentalists. In April, in a poor area in Qena, in the south of Egypt, demonstrators came together to protest the nomination of a new governor, a Copt, who was accused of collaborating with the state’s security services.
Witnesses have reported that the rabble rousers appear to belong to the Salafist movement or to be elements of the underworld, although no one is quite sure how to sort out the two. Mubarak’s clique and the secret services that depended on him used similar provocations. They made the Copt minority scapegoats, used to explain away the profound misery of Cairo’s poor and the poor in other cities as well.
Three months after the departure of Mubarak, the social situation remains tense, with people still waiting for real change.
Gasoline prices have shot up. Food has increased at least 20%, weighing heavily on the poorer parts of the population. The official inflation rate in April was more than 12% a year. Strike movements continue, for example, in the Mefco furniture factory in Helwan, in the Jawhara ceramic factory in Sadat City, and at the Abu Simbel airport, showing that workers continue to demand wage increases.
In these conditions, the inter-religious confrontations could furnish a very convenient diversion for discontent. It’s likely that elements of the police, the army and the secret services are using such incidents to fan the flames. In Imbaba, the police were very careful NOT to intervene to prevent confrontations.
These tensions show that the new power, or certain of its elements, don’t hesitate to use the same dirty methods as Mubarak did.