Sectarianism, long stifled through the former regime's ability to appease different groups has been fomenting for years. On Sunday, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) used a sinister media game to deliver false accusations against the Coptic protesters, telling the country they had attacked the army and were using children as human shields.
Then, hours after the first bodies had been seen, bloodied and limp, State television again played on sectarianism, imploring Egyptians to "take to the streets to protect the armed forces".
The result was that ultra-conservative Muslims converged on downtown Cairo, armed with guns, sticks and rocks, meeting the protesters, who by late in the evening had become a cross-section of Egyptian society angry at the military, with violence. The result was death on a scale not seen since Mubarak's "thugs" killed nearly 1,000 during the January revolution.
Violence inspired by the military
By calling on Egyptians to take up arms against the Coptic population, the military was in essence telling its citizens to begin a civil war. One only they would be able to end, thus solidifying Egypt's need for a military presence at the top. It is a dangerous game being played and one that if not countered immediately and through concerted efforts could spiral into chaos that will bring only more violence.
The military was at fault on Sunday for inspiring violence, killing its own citizens and delivering what could be a knockout blow to any potential reconciliation between the Coptic community and the Muslim majority. Now the military has more "evidence" that they are needed, that the draconian emergency laws are vital to the stability of Egypt's future. The game could only have been played better by Mubarak, who is currently on trial for ordering the killing of protesters in January.
There is also another important facet of Sunday's violence: Muslims seemed all too ready to take up arms against their Coptic brethren. The comments heard throughout the evening by bystanders and others were shocking, saddening and scary. Some called for Copts to be killed, others insulted Coptic Pope Shenouda, while still others showed their anger toward the Christians through violence.
By Joseph Mayton
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