Clashes between Egypt’s Christians, Muslims escalated


Clashes between Christians and Muslims escalated on Tuesday with thousands of people burning tires, smashing parked cars and cutting off a main road despite military moves to control a day of violent protests in Egypt’s capital.

Tensions have been simmering between Egypt’s minority Christian community and its Muslim majority after a Muslim mob burned a church in a Cairo suburb. Egypt’s military rulers have since pledged to rebuild the church and Prime Minister Essam Sharaf met Monday with the protesters outside the state-television building.

On Tuesday, thousands of Christians demonstrated in locations around the city, saying they were being persecuted. But several of the gatherings descended into violence when the two sides confronted each other in the streets.

About 2,000 people cut off a main road running on the eastern side of the city and pelted motorists with rocks. A crowd of garbage collectors known as the zabaleen — who are predominantly Christians — also demonstrated on a main street near their neighborhood demanding equal rights and better quality of life.

Tensions remain high in Egypt nearly a month after mass protests ousted President Hosni Mubarak after nearly 30 years in power. The upheaval has plunged many parts of the country into turmoil, with virtually incessant protests, strikes and a higher rate of violent crime.

Also Tuesday, an Egyptian court rejected an appeal by Mubarak and his family against a top prosecutor’s move to seize funds that could total in the billions of dollars. The decision clears the way for a criminal investigation and a possible trial of Egypt’s former leader.

Mubarak, his wife, two sons and their wives have also been banned from travel abroad.

Judicial officials described the court decision to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

During the pro-democracy uprising, unconfirmed reports that Mubarak and his family might have amassed billions, or even tens of billions of dollars, over their three decades in power, fueled protesters already enraged over massive corruption and poverty in Egypt.

Mubarak, top leaders of his one-time ruling party and other cronies, as well as the powerful military have all profited richly from the corrupt system while nearly half of Egypt’s 80 million people live under or near the poverty line set by the World bank at $2 a day.

Mubarak, 82, is suspected of turning a blind eye to corruption by family members and their associates, while many of the allegations of wrongdoing centered on the business activity of his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, as well as Gamal’s wife and her family.

Unlike other Arab leaders, particularly those in the oil-rich Gulf nations, Mubarak was far from ostentatious. Whatever wealth he and his family may have had was rarely — if ever — flaunted. But that did not stop Egyptians from swapping stories about the size of their wealth and the allegedly corrupt methods they used to amass it.

The most prominent symbol of their presumed fortune that has surfaced was a town house in London’s exclusive Knightsbridge district, which is listed under Gamal Mubarak’s name and where he was said to have lived while working as an investment banker in the early 1990s. The town house has become a focal point for many in Egypt as foreign governments begin to either enact, or consider freezing the family’s assets.

Gamal Mubarak was the ousted leader’s one-time heir apparent, although they never confirmed the plan and remained evasive on the topic almost until the very end. The younger Mubarak rose rapidly through the ranks of his father’s National Democratic Party, or NDP, over the past decade to become the country’s most powerful politician after the president.

In the NDP, Gamal Mubarak surrounded himself with mega-rich businessmen who sought political careers to promote their business interests. Between them, they introduced far-reaching economic reforms that benefited the businessmen. But any prosperity Egypt ever enjoyed never trickled to the impoverished majority.

Several of those businessmen are now in prison and subject to criminal investigations as the ruling military pushes ahead with a campaign to cleanse the country from the corruption of the ousted regime.

Alaa Mubarak’s wealth had been the subject of much speculation well before the political rise of his younger brother. There are allegations that he used the family name to muscle in on profitable enterprises, taking a cut of profits without contributing to the funds invested or work done.


Photo: Egyptian Coptic Christians demonstrate outside the state radio and television building in central Cairo. At least 1,000 Christians gathered in Cairo on Tuesday to protest the burning of a church last week after deadly clashes between Christians and Muslims in a city south of the capital, state television said