CAIRO, Egypt– Christian protesters disregarded a call by their faith’s top Egyptian leader to end a weeklong sit-in in front of a government building on the Nile, remaining in place Sunday, a day after a mob attacked them and their supporters, injuring 78.
The sit-in aimed to draw attention to the plight of Christians, who have been the target of several attacks by Muslim fundamentalists in the weeks since Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was forced from office by a popular uprising.
The head of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Shenouda III, said in a statement that outsiders have infiltrated the sit-in of largely Christian demonstrators, making the situation even more explosive.
“This has exceeded the mere expression of opinion,” the statement said, “harming Egypt’s reputation and your reputation.”
He warned that Egypt’s military rulers and interim civilian government were losing patience with the protesters and that they “will be the losers if this sit-in continues.”
By late Sunday, however, the protesters – many of whom have been camping out on the riverbank in front of the state TV building – showed no sign of leaving, even gaining new strength.
Girgis Atef, a 24-year old protest organizer, said they won’t leave until their demands are met, most urgently the prosecution of church assailants and the release of Christian protesters detained in previous protests following violence against Christians.
“The pope is our father and the leader of the church. He loves and is hurt by what happened to us,” Atef said. “No father would be unjust to his children and be a tool to pressure them so they can forgo their rights.”
Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, have felt increasingly insecure since street protests brought down Mubarak, who led the country for nearly 30 years until he was forced to resign on Feb. 11.
The Christians, many of whom are Coptic, have complained that the interim government and security forces have failed to protect them and have allowed extremist Islamic groups to attack with impunity.