Tension between Christians and Muslims in Cairo broke out into lengthy street battles this weekend. Four Coptic Christians and one Muslim were killed on Saturday, and during the funeral for the fallen Christians on Sunday a huge fight broke out when “residents of the area” attacked the mourning party, which included women and children. The mourners had begun to shout chants against President Morsi. As rocks and Molotov cocktails soared back and forth, the Christians took refuge in St. Mark’s Cathedral, the seat of the Coptic pope in Egypt. At first police stood by and did nothing. Later they tried to disperse the crowd with tear gas and apparently fired into the cathedral grounds.
The Global Post reports from the scene: “Witnesses speak of a siege-like atmosphere at the church, where Copts hunkered down under fire from local Muslim residents and even police forces that shot tear gas onto the cathedral grounds. Those inside the church also fired back.”
Security has become a huge problem in Cairo and other cities in Egypt. Large numbers of police have gone on strike over the past few months, leaving Egyptians at the mercy of armed gangs and vigilante groups. The situation for minorities is especially dangerous. The government tends to “condemn” violence and promise “transparent” investigations into events like this weekend’s fighting. President Morsi even condemned attacks on Christians as “an attack on me personally,” yet nothing much seems to improve.
Meanwhile, the Brotherhood government continues to run low on funds (President Morsi recently had to go looking for handouts from Libya and Iraq, of all places), and soon it won’t be able to continue to prop up Egypt’s shaky economy. Subsidies for cooking gas and bread, among other goods, are a huge burden for the government but canceling them would be unacceptable to many Egyptians. Security and the economy are bad and getting worse.
Which leads us to wonder: what happens if the Brotherhood fails?
[Image: An Egyptian protester runs with a live tear gas canister during clashes with riot police in Cairo's Tahrir Square on January 25. Courtesy Getty.]