If you thought merely removing Hosni Mubarak from power would solve Egypt’s problems, think again. The most populated country in the Middle East is still facing many issues following the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings. Deadly violence between Muslims and Christian Copts near the Saint Mina Church point to the potential for more sectarian battles on the streets of Cairo. Youth protesters, veterans from Tahrir Square in January, are launching a fresh round of protests against the military-controlled interim government as reforms are coming too slowly. The Muslim Brotherhood is gearing up to win a majority of seats in the next Parliamentary elections. What ignited the original protests, rapid inflation of food and fuel prices, is getting worse. The inflation rate for just the month of April was 12% in Egypt.
Violent sectarian clashes began Saturday when just a rumor that a woman who had allegedly converted from Christianity to Islam was being held at the Saint Mina Church led to some 10 to 12 people being killed and over 1,000 wounded. The two sides fighting were Coptic Christians and Salafist Muslims in the Imbaba district of Cairo. Soldiers and police attempted to break up the fighting using tear gas, but many observers report that the soldiers were clearly siding with Muslim street brawlers. The church was set on fire as the violence spread. The incident forced interim Prime Minister Essam Sharaf to cancel a trip to neighboring Gulf states and convene an emergency cabinet meeting on Sunday.
Ali Goamaa, the grand mufti of Egypt and highest authority on Islamic Law told a local newspaper that the violence could be a prelude to civil war “because of outlaws who want to defy the authority of the state.” The Salafis are considered among the most puritanical of Islamic sects. 1,000 Copts are still staging a sit-in at the Egyptian state-controlled television network protesting the lack of protection from police and government authorities. Christians make up about 10% of Egypt′s population.
Meanwhile, food and other vital daily necessities jumped another 12.1% in April, following an increase of 11.5% in March. Food prices alone accounted for a 20.7% price increase on average. Egypt’s central bank warned that food prices account for about 44% of the total inflationary impact on the country. High unemployment still plagues the nation as the tourism industry took a major hit since the uprising began in January. A key gas pipeline near Sinai was damaged by an armed gang. The pipeline supplied gas to both Israel and Jordan. A Bedouin tribe in the area that attempted to sabotage the pipeline last July is being blamed.
Clearly, there are several factions which are growing increasing unhappy with the interim government in Egypt. The potential for more sectarian violence between Salafist Muslims and Christian Copts as seen this past weekend is just one among several groups within the country. The Youth Movement which led the way in Tahrir Square is also growing more dissatisfied with the military-controlled government. Others like the Bedouins who have always distrusted authorities in Cairo may revolt. The Muslim Brotherhood, the largest and best organized political faction in Egypt may win control of the Parliament in upcoming elections. How well that will sit with the other factions remains to be seen, but my guess is that we will not see any dawn of peace for some time to come in Egypt.