Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
05CAIRO7987
2005-10-17 14:12:00
UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Embassy Cairo
Cable title:  

CHRISTIAN-MUSLIM TENSIONS FLARE IN ALEXANDRIA

Tags:  PGOV PHUM KISL KIRF EG 
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 007987 

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

NSC STAFF FOR POUNDS
NEA/ELA FOR LECLAIRE
DRL/IRF FOR COFSKY

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KISL KIRF EG
SUBJECT: CHRISTIAN-MUSLIM TENSIONS FLARE IN ALEXANDRIA


Sensitive but unclassified. Please protect accordingly.

This is a joint message from Embassy Cairo and American
Presence Post Alexandria.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 007987

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

NSC STAFF FOR POUNDS
NEA/ELA FOR LECLAIRE
DRL/IRF FOR COFSKY

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KISL KIRF EG
SUBJECT: CHRISTIAN-MUSLIM TENSIONS FLARE IN ALEXANDRIA


Sensitive but unclassified. Please protect accordingly.

This is a joint message from Embassy Cairo and American
Presence Post Alexandria.


1. (SBU) Summary: Coptic-Muslim tensions erupted in
Alexandria October 14 as local Muslims protested the
performance -- and DVD distribution -- of a controversial
play by Copts, which the protestors deemed offensive to
Islam. Large, angry crowds surrounded the St. George Coptic
Orthodox church in the Moharram Bey district following the
Friday noon prayer on October 14 and again that evening, and
the GOE dispatched security forces to protect the church and
its congregants. The protests appear to have been driven by
sensationalist newspaper articles and inflammatory websites,
as well as opportunistic politicians, including at least one
sitting member of parliament running for reelection in the
upcoming parliamentary polls. Alexandria,s Governor, senior
State Security officials, and senior Coptic emissaries sent
by Pope Shenouda III from Cairo convened at the church on
Sunday, October 16 in an attempt to defuse the crisis, and
local Muslim leaders have appealed for restraint. The GOE
appears eager to avoid conflicts between the two communities,
particularly in this active political season. End Summary.


2. (SBU) Egypt's latest episode of sectarian tension
erupted Friday, October 14 after Muslim protesters surrounded
St. George,s following the Muslim noon prayer. The
protestors returned in the evening, trapping congregants into
the early morning hours of Saturday. Protesters were angered
by the reported performance of a play inside the church
titled "Once I was Blind, but Now I See," which depicts the
struggles of a poor Coptic boy who converts to Islam upon
promises of money for studies and housing. The boy later
becomes disillusioned and, when attempting to return to
Christianity, is threatened and intimidated by those who
originally encouraged his conversion. The protagonist
nevertheless returns to Christianity, and recounts the many
difficulties and indignities he endured as a Muslim. The
protesters claimed the play presented an insulting, distorted
image of Islam and the prophet Mohammad.


3. (SBU) The play, which was reportedly first performed

two years earlier, had also been recorded and distributed on
DVD, allowing its viewing not only by other Copts, but by
Muslim groups. The October 14-15 protests (reportedly
comprising 1000-3000 protesters) appear to have been driven,
in part, by Islamic websites, one of which reportedly
downloaded the play which further galvanized opposition.
Protesters have demanded an end to the performance of the
play, and apologies from Church officials involved in its
production and distribution. Although mostly non-violent,
some protesters are alleged to have thrown bottles and rocks
at St. George,s and at least one other church, in addition
to trapping congregants inside after the Friday prayer.
Alexandria Governor Mohammad Abdel Salam Al-Mahgoub and
senior Alexandria State Security officials attended mass
Sunday, October 16 at the St. George Coptic Church in the
Muharram Bey district of Alexandria, meeting afterwards with
representatives of the Coptic Patriarchate in an attempt to
defuse ongoing Muslim-Coptic tension in the city.


4. (SBU) Police remained outside St. George,s Church on
Monday, October 17. Some observers have questioned the
timing of the protests (during Ramadan when offense against
Islam may be quicker to ignite),given the play,s existence
without apparent incident for the past two years. Press
reports have provided differing accounts of the role of a
prominent local politician and member of the People's
Assembly, Mohamed Al Badrashiny, who has been depicted
alternatively as either inciting the protests or working to
calm tensions. Badrashiny, an independent who has in the
past courted both Arab nationalist and Islamist voters,
represents part of the Muharram Bey district, is running for
reelection, and is alleged by Copts to have exploited the
situation in order to appeal to voters with Islamist
sympathies. An annual Coptic Patriarchate-hosted iftar for
the Alexandria community is scheduled for October 22, an
occasion being looked at as an opportunity for Coptic
officials to reach out to Muslim leaders to defuse the
crisis. Muslim religious leaders in Muharram Bey have called
for restraint and reportedly spoken out strongly against
attacks on churches or intimidation of congregants.


5. (SBU) Comment: The presence of Alexandria Governor
Al-Mahgoub, State Security Officials, and high-level envoys
of Pope Shenouda at mass on October 16 is viewed by most
observers as a significant intervention into the matter and
indicative of concern among all parties that a greater
conflagration be avoided. Al-Mahgoub, highly respected by
many Egyptian religious leaders for his efforts to promote
interfaith harmony, addressed the October 16 congregation and
offered a strong appeal for the maintenance of the calm
Muslim-Coptic relations that have long characterized the
city. While most believe this event will subside, the speed
with which it ignited and was exploited reveals the deep
divisions that lurk beneath the surface between the two
communities. End comment.


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