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Egyptians decry lack of justice in deaths

Betsy hiel | Tribune-Review
Demonstrators on Tuesday mark the first anniversary of a harsh crackdown that left 27 Christian protesters dead in majority Muslim Egypt.

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Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012, 6:26 p.m.

CAIRO – Thousands of somber Egyptians marched here on Tuesday to mark the one-year anniversary of a massacre of Christian protesters.

“I came here today even though I know our rights won't be returned, but to commemorate the martyrs' memory,” said Marina Kamal, 26, a violinist.

In 2011, street thugs and soldiers attacked a Christian-led march on the state-run television building, known as Maspero, after state media whipped up an anti-Christian frenzy.

Twenty-seven protesters and a soldier died; more than 200 were injured.

Nadi Tallat, 41, of Maspero Youth, a group defending Christian rights, said that “until now, no justice has been achieved” for the victims.

Three soldiers received 2- to 3-year prison terms for crushing 15 protesters with a military vehicle, but no one has been charged with 12 shooting deaths.

The crowd chanted for equal rights and religious unity, as some held up Bibles and Qurans.

Egyptian Christians, mostly Coptic Orthodox, are the Middle East's largest Christian minority. Representing as much as 15 percent of Egypt's 80 million people, they have long complained of discrimination.

Since last year's revolution toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak, they have been subjected to increasing attacks and the destruction of homes, shops and churches.

A 9th-century church in the town of Rashid was partially bulldozed this week. The site is known for the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, which helped to decipher ancient hieroglyphics.

The ancient-Egypt theme was in evidence during the march. Men carried a gold pharaonic solar funerary boat, its sails bearing photos of slain protesters; women in blue-and-white pharaonic dress held posters and victims' photos.

Families, some weeping, watched the blocks-long march from apartment balconies.

Large speakers blared the Vangelis song, “Conquest of Paradise.”

A religious sheikh from Al Azhar, Egypt's oldest and most prestigious Muslim institution, joined marchers holding wooden crosses. He carried a sign blaming “famine and discrimination” on the ruling Muslim Brotherhood.

Several political groups joined the march, and many took aim at the Brotherhood. Chants called for the downfall of Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badi.

Political activist Salma Said, 27, said she is worried about the country's direction under the Brotherhood and the potential for “civil war and sectarian tension. It is the most powerful tool used by the government to stop the revolution.”

One sign weighed-in on American politics, too: “The Egyptian revolution supports Mitt Romney.”

Many Egyptian liberals criticize the Obama administration for supporting the Brotherhood.

In a Twitter post, former Brotherhood deputy Mohamed Habib said the “silence that overshadows the Maspero massacre … is a crime against the whole nation.”

Habib was pushed out of the Brotherhood by fellow deputy Mohamed Morsy, who won Egypt's presidency in June.

Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Email her at

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