Sectarian violence threatens to derail Egypt's promise, even as the country begins its journey toward a better future.
The spirit of revolution that swept out the old regime and started the country on a fragile path to democracy was the work of millions of ordinary citizens, regardless of their gender, education, economic status or religion. The revolution was about the need for the government to respond to the demands of its population and for Egypt’s citizens to have a hand in shaping their own future.
In January and February, Egyptians from all walks of life worked together because they knew that only by uniting would they succeed in realizing their hopes for a better future. Who can forget the moments in Tahrir Square, when Muslim protesters at prayer were surrounded by their Christian brethren and protected from the police, and then the favor was returned? In those moments, Egyptians transcended their differences to fight for that which united them: freedom from oppression.
But now that the revolution has been won, a small number of extremists have forgotten the lessons of Tahrir Square. Religious intolerance has surfaced; sectarian clashes are on the rise in Egypt. On May 7th, in the Cairo suburb of Imbaba, sectarian violence broke out over a number of rumors, including one that the church had taken a Muslim woman captive. In the sectarian clashes that followed, twelve people died, including both Christians and Muslims, 232 were injured, and two churches were burned.
Such actions are an insult to the spirit of the revolution, and a disservice to the people of Egypt.
Fortunately, most Egyptians understand that the future of their country is at stake, and they reject sectarian strife. Thousands of Muslims and Christians gathered in central Cairo to protest the Imbaba incident. The sectarian clashes were also widely denounced by many Egyptian leaders as against the spirit of the revolution.
It is important that the spirit of cooperation, as exemplified by those who would protect their brethren at prayer, be carried through in the form of concrete action to protect all religions, and to promote peaceful coexistence regardless of religious identity.
Only then will Egyptians realize the freedom for which they fought in Tahrir Square.