Islamists in southern Egypt are continuing their protests against the appointment of a Coptic Christian as governor, and have vowed not to stop until he was removed from office, The Associated Press reported on Tuesday.
The ultraconservative Salafis began their protest on Friday in Qena against the new governor, Emad Shehata Michael, who, they fear will not properly implement Islamic law. Protestors also accuse Mr. Michael, who worked as assistant to Giza security during the revolution, of being a member of the old regime that killed protesters, claiming many came from Qena, according to a report in Al Ahram Online.
Attempts by the newly appointed interior minister, Mansour El-Eissawy, who hails from the same region, did not halt the protests by the Salafis who sat on train tracks, took over government buildings and blocked main roads in the southern city of Qena.
Mr. Michael’s predecessor was also a Christian and a former police general, but he was appointed by former President Hosni Mubarak and was largely disliked for his alleged incompetence, enabling the Salafis to draw on local dissatisfaction in their current campaign, reported AP.
“They started out by camping at the local government's office then they set up a tent on the railroad tracks,” local resident Wafy Nasr told AP. “They also tried to block the road and stopped buses to separate men and women passengers.”
Mr. Nasr said tensions were so high that Christian residents had to stay indoors and couldn't go to church to celebrate Palm Sunday.
“This won't work. A Copt won't implement Islamic law,” a speaker told a crowd at Qena’s government office, as seen on a YouTube video.
Salafis believe only a Muslim can be governor in the country that cites Islam as its primary source of legislation.
“When there is a decision to change the governor to a civilian Muslim, we will end the strike and life will return to normal,” said Sheikh Qureishi Salama, the imam of the local mosque as he questioned why their impoverished province kept getting Christian governors.
“Why is Qena becoming a testing ground for Christians?” he asked. “We aren’t guinea pigs.”
Diaa Rashwan, an expert on Islamic groups and a native of Qena said the problem amongst the majority of the population with the new appointment was that it was a continuation of a trend of installing former police generals as governors.
“The Salafis mobilized many people, many of them religious by nature,” he said.
After forcing out President Mubarak from office in February 11, Islamists seem to be gradually gaining ground. The Muslim Brotherhood, which was prevented from forming a party during Mr. Mubarak’s regime, is increasingly becoming vocal.
A senior party leader caused uproar after he was quoted in local papers as saying his group sought to establish an Islamic state, one that implemented Islamic punishments—including amputating hands for theft.
“We can't sleep anymore, so we give room for this religion to thrive in Egypt. Don’t let us waste this opportunity,” Saad al-Husseini, a leader from the Brotherhood leader was quoted as saying, according to the daily Al-Masry Al-Youm.
Coptic Christians makes up about 10 percent of the country’s 82 million people and have long complained of discrimination in the country, have also been deeply unsettled by the development.