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Unrest Erupts In Egypt After Attack On Christian Wedding


Sunday was supposed to be a day of joy in Egypt at the Church of the Virgin Mary in suburban Cairo. There were four weddings scheduled. But after a drive-by shooting ripped through the celebrations, there were four burials today instead. At least 18 other people were wounded in the attack. It was the latest act of violence in a country experiencing divisions and great crisis. From Cairo, NPR's Leila Fadel sent this report.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: At the entrance of the church, a line of police stands guard. Past the wooden gate is a green plastic chair covered in dried blood, a hole in the back where a bullet ripped through. Inside the church grounds, Leila Aziz cries for her dead uncle. She asks, why are they doing this to us, spreading hatred among us? Behind her, a young boy who lost his brother shakes with sobs as men give him water and comfort him.

In a back room, the priest of this church, Father Daoud Ibrahim, and others, receive condolences and prepare for the funeral.

DAOUD IBRAHIM: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Father Daoud says whoever did this is trying to destroy Egypt. It is an all too familiar scene here now since a military coup that swept Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood from power. The country is in a constant state of unrest. Analysts say Egypt is now facing a low-level insurgency while the Muslim Brotherhood's protest movement faces state violence and oppression. Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands arrested.

And Egypt's Coptic Christians, who make up at least 10 percent of the population, have become targets for militants angry with the military-backed authority. Many Islamists blame Christians for supporting the military coup against Morsi. Michael Wahid Hanna is an Egypt expert at The Century Foundation.

MICHAEL WAHID HANNA: As the cycle of violence between the state and the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood continues and escalates, Copts are easy targets. They do not retaliate, do not have their own sources of violence.

FADEL: He says more violence is all but inevitable. There is no evidence that the Muslim Brotherhood has anything to do with organized attacks on Christians. But because of the anti-Christian rhetoric that has come from the protest movement, many blame the organization for the bloodshed. Again, Michael Wahid Hanna.

HANNA: In the eyes of the Egyptian populous or at least large swaths of the Egyptian populous, this kind of violence becomes part and parcel of the protest movement, regardless of the actual participation of the Brotherhood or not.

FADEL: The Muslim Brotherhood condemned Sunday's attack and blamed the state for failing to protect the churches. A Coptic youth group issued a similar statement. Dozens of houses of worship, along with schools and Christian-owned businesses, have been attacked since the July 3rd coup.

As night fell on Cairo, the funerals of the dead were broadcast live on television. Mobs of people wept over the coffins as the priest urged everyone to pray for the souls of the dead, among them an 8-year-old girl.

BISHOP YOUANNES: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: Bishop Youannes, the private secretary to the Coptic pope, addressed the crowd. This church has been christened with the blood of martyrs, he said. It will only make the church stronger. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.