Thousands of people rallied in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday calling for unity and the rule of law to be enforced after attacks on churches, state television reported, hours after the prosecutor ordered the detention of a woman whose rumored captivity in a church triggered deadly clashes between Muslims and Christians.
Footage aired from the iconic square, the epicenter of protests that overthrew president Hosni Mubarak in February, showed thousands of protesters waving flags and banners in support of national unity.
Twelve people were killed in clashes on Saturday, May 7, after Muslims surrounded a church in Imbaba, a low-income neighborhood of West Cairo demanding the handover of a woman they said Coptic Christians had detained after she allegedly converted to Islam and married a Muslim.
The Islamists also set fire to a second church.
The unrest threatened to drive Egypt’s often-tense religious tensions to the brink, prompting the military to arrest more than 200 people it said would swiftly be tried.
Activists had called for a mass show of unity on Friday, which has become a traditional day of protest after the weekly Muslim prayers at noon.
The protesters gathered in the square ahead of the prayers also waved Palestinian flags, according to Agence-France Presse.
Activists have called for a march to neighboring Gaza at the weekend, coinciding with the 63rd anniversary of Israel’s founding, to protest the Israeli occupation.
The interior ministry has urged them to cancel the march.
The young Egyptian woman whose complicated love life led to last weekend’s clashes was arrested on Thursday and charged with marrying more than one husband, a judicial source said.
Abeer Fakhry, 26, was living with her Christian husband in the southern city of Assiut when she ran away from home, converted to Islam and informally married Muslim Yassin Thabet.
Ms. Fakhry was sent to a women’s prison and was accompanied by her infant daughter, the MENA news agency reported.
“The military prosecution ordered the detention of the citizen Abeer Fakhry, the catalyst for the incidents of strife in Imbaba, for 15 days pending investigation,” the report said.
Hundreds of mostly Christian protesters gathered by Egypt’s main state television building cheered as a priest announced Ms. Fakhry had been detained. Several demonstrators said the detention proved the church did not hold anyone against their will, according to Reuters.
Copts account for up to 10 percent of the country’s 85 million people. They complain of discrimination, and have been the targets of fairly regular sectarian attacks.
The most recent violence has been blamed on a hard-line Islamist sect, the Salafis, who have regularly staged protests demanding the church release women they believe converted to Islam.
The sect was mostly apolitical under Mr. Mubarak, but since February it has grown more assertive and its leaders say they will form parties to contest a parliamentary election in September.
(Abeer Tayel, an editor at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: email@example.com)