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The conflict between Christians and Muslims in Egypt is escalating once again.
The country’s military is in the process of setting up a new government to restore law and order. However, there is not enough manpower present to enforce the law in this the time between revolution and new government.
Thirteen Egyptians were killed and 140 were wounded in Christian-Muslim violence March 22, according to the Health Ministry. It was not clear how many of the casualties were Christians or Muslims.
The majority of the country’s population is Muslim, while Christians are the minority. Violent encounters between the two sects have lessened since the protests began and former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted. An arson attack on a church south of Cairo March 19 caused the buried tensions to resurface.
The Christian-Muslim violence is another obstacle to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which is trying to return control of the country to a civilian, elected government in the next six months.
The fighting began when Coptic Christians were protesting on a Cairo highway and blocking traffic in response to the arson attack. Witnesses said that tires were burning and parked cars were smashed as members of the two sects threw petrol bombs and rocks at each other throughout the capital city.
The attack on the church was the result of a true-to-life Romeo and Juliet story – a family dispute over a romance between a Muslim woman and a Christian man. Hundreds of Christians have been protesting outside the headquarters of the state-run television since the attack.
A mere month ago, tensions seemed to have vanished. On Feb. 3, a group of Christians held hands and formed a circle around hundreds of Muslim protesters who were left vulnerable while they knelt in prayer. Even after the Alexandria bombing and other violent conflicts between members of the two faiths in the past, differences were set aside during a time of unity and revolution. It has also been reported that some Muslims have been guarding Coptic churches while Christians pray, and Christians were guarding the mosques while Muslims prayed.
Where did the unity and the ability to set aside differences go?
When both groups had a single enemy – Mubarak’s regime – they joined together in the effort to succeed in their cooperative cause. However, now that Mubarak is gone, the Muslims and Christians no longer share the same goals. They have regressed into the same thing they were before the revolution: enemies. The groups have a conflict of interests.
The military is trying to rebuild the church that was burned before Easter in hopes of easing tensions.
However, as far as preventing further violence between Christians and Muslims in Egypt, the government is practically powerless.
“The system now does not have the strength or the authority or even the military power to separate Muslims and Christians, if, God forbid, there are further implications,” political analyst Diaa Rashwan said. “The system does not even have the power to ease traffic.”