Hundreds of Christians demonstrated late Wednesday near a large Cairo slum, blocking a major highway and clashing with police following the shooting death of a Christian man the day before, said a security official.
The demonstrators were protesting the treatment of Christians in the country in the wake of Tuesday’s shooting and a New Year’s Day suicide bombing of a church in the port city of Alexandria, which killed 21 worshippers.
The bombing prompted three days of riots by Christians and now the recent shooting is threatening to set off a new round of demonstrations by the disaffected minority which makes up 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million.
The protesters pelted police with stones and blocked the Autostrad highway running along the edge of Manshiyet Nasr, a slum of 1.2 million near the city’s medieval cemeteries, that includes a population of Christians specialized in gathering and recycling the city’s garbage.
Three officers and five riot police were wounded and several of their vehicles were damaged, the security official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
There was no immediate word on civilian casualties, but police report the demonstrators eventually calmed down.
The demonstrations come after Wednesday’s funeral in a northeast Cairo neighbourhood for the 71-year-old victim of the train shooting. Hundreds of riot police surrounded the Cairo church where an emotional ceremony was held, according to the local media.
In Tuesday’s attack, an off duty police officer boarded a train in southern Egypt and shot dead one man and wounded five other Christians. The attacker was later apprehended.
It was not immediately clear whether the gunman knew his targets were Christians. But four of the five wounded were Christian women who stand out in the conservative south as they would probably not have been wearing headscarves as most Muslim women do.
Shooting attacks against Christians occasionally take place in Egypt’s impoverished south, usually over commercial disputes, church building or allegations of cross-sectarian relationships.
In January 2010, gunmen opened fire on worshippers leaving a Coptic Christmas Eve church service in southern Egypt, killing six Christians and a Muslim guard.
Many Christians charge that the authorities are not doing enough to protect them and in fact allege some members of the security services turn a blind eye to anti-Christian incidents.
The New Year’s suicide attack on the church reopened long festering wounds in a Christian community that says its members feel like second class citizens in their own country due to widespread discrimination.