Egypt Moves Towards Islam & Democracy

Egyptians streamed into Tahrir Square for a 13th day of protests Sunday, one punctuated by a movie star, a bride and groom, and public displays of unity between the country’s Muslims and Christians.

Near the northern end of the square, site of brutal fighting midweek between supporters and opponents of the regime, a group of Muslim scholars from the prestigious university at Al-Azhar joined a contingent of Coptic Christians who marched holding up a large wooden crucifix while the Azhar clergy held up an open Quran.

Coptic Christians hold a mass in Tahrir Square and add their voices those calling for reform in Egypt. Video courtesy of Reuters.

They trotted through the square, mixing chants of interfaith unity and the now-trademark anti-Mubarak slogans. At one point, an Azhar scholar embraced a Coptic marcher and kissed him on the cheek.

Relations between the Christian minority, who make up about 10% of Egypt’s population, and Muslims haven’t always been so smooth. Copts and the ruling regime have found common ground in antipathy for radical Islamist groups.

In recent weeks, the fragile coexistence was tested when 23 died and 97 were injured when a large bomb packed with nails and ball bearings detonated outside an Alexandria church just after midnight on New Year’s day, as mass was ending.

After the demonstrations began, Pope Shenouda III, head of the Coptic Church, expressed support for Mr. Mubarak in an interview with Egyptian state television.

A number of foreigners are showing their support for anti-government protesters demonstrating in Cairo’s central square. Video courtesy of Reuters.

Still, a small but visible contingent of Copts have made their presence felt in Tahrir Square.

For Tamara Scander, 17, a Coptic high school student, Sunday was the first time she went to Tahrir to protest. She came with her best friend, a Muslim classmate.

“It’s good to see Muslims and Christians in the same place with the same goal,” Ms. Scander said. “We all want the same thing”

After the bombing of the church in Alexandria, the friends said this show of unity bodes well for the nation. “Everything got pushed to the limit and we had to stand up and say something,” said Tamara’s Muslim friend, Merna Makkawi, 17.

Rocks that had been piled strategically around the square to fend off attacks from supporters of the regime were being repurposed Sunday. Some were used to spell out anti-Mubarak slogans. Others were crafted into a symbol blending the Muslim crescent and Christian cross, a sign of unity.

Still others spelled out “Facebook,” a reminder of the Internet roots of the youth opposition.

Even as much of Cairo got back to work after nearly two weeks of demonstrations, large numbers of protesters took to Tahrir Square.

Photos: Sunday Protests

Associtated Press

Regional Upheaval

A succession of rallies and demonstrations, in Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and Algeria have been inspired directly by the popular outpouring of anger that toppled Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. See how these uprisings have progressed.

Long lines stretched out at the entrance. People with food and medical supplies were given priority access. Some protesters held a newspaper page from Al Masry Al Youm featuring the pictures and names of those who died during the uprising. Sunday had been branded the “Sunday of Martyrs” by the protesters.

Inside, merchants had set up kiosks selling Egyptian flags, juice and cookies, cigarettes, tea and koshary, a national dish comprised of rice, lentils and elbow macaroni garnished with a red hot sauce.

The festival-like atmosphere was bolstered by the appearance of the popular actor of Egyptian film and television Amr Waked – who has also appeared in the American film “Syriana.”

On Sunday, Mr. Waked strolled in the square as a massive crowd surrounded him to shake hands or give him hugs. He earned the respect of the anti-regime protesters after he spent several days at Tahrir joining in the activism.One fan said Mr. Waked was in the square Wednesday, when supporters of the regime charged protesters on horses and camels. “He got knocked down and roughed up, just like us,” the fan said.

That day, Mr. Waked was lifted onto the back of a white horse that had been wrested from its rider and was paraded around the square.

Also, Sunday, a couple held a wedding procession across the Kasr el Nil Bridge that culminated in a ceremony inside Tahrir celebrating their nuptials.

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