CAIRO, April 21 (Reuters) - Protesters in a southern Egyptian city insisted on Thursday their new Christian governor resign, stepping up a week-long challenge to his appointment by the country’s military rulers.
The army generals ruling Egypt since President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster appointed Emad Mikhail, a Copt and a senior former officer in Egypt’s vilified police force, as governor of Qena province earlier this month.
But he has so far not taken up his post because thousands of demonstrators have contested the decision, resorting to the same people-power that ended Mubarak’s 30-year rule in February.
Protesters have blocked highways and railway tracks leading to Qena, a province with a large Coptic Christian population and whose previous governor was also a Christian.
They have also surrounded the governor’s office, vowing to prevent Mikhail from ever entering.
“Mikhail, Mikhail, you’re never coming here,” protesters chanted.
Ibrahim Saadani, one of the protesters, told Reuters by telephone: “We do not want someone from the previous regime and worst still from the police force as governor. The revolution came to change the previous regime but we are not seeing new faces.”
The protesters said they would hold a big rally on Friday to force Mikhail’s resignation and would not negotiate with a government envoy sent from Cairo to resolve the matter.
“We’re not backing down until he is removed. He has got to go,” another protester said.
Local media had reported radical Islamists were spearheading the protests, raising fears they could descend into sectarian violence in a province where Muslims and Christians have often clashed in the past.
But witnesses said Coptic Christians, and other Muslims, had joined the demonstrations because of Mikhail’s past.
The governor previously headed a criminal investigations department and reported to former interior minister Habib al-Adli, who is on trial for corruption and the security forces’ violent crackdown on the uprising.
“Some people don’t like the fact he’s Christian, others think that because he’s Christian like his predecessor he won’t be tough enough on security and there are a lot of people who also don’t trust him because he’s ex-police,” said Youssef Ragab, a journalist in Qena.
So far, the army and police have stayed on the sidelines of the demonstrations, a stance that was unthinkable before Mubarak was deposed. The government has said it would allow the protests to continue, but would stop any “acts of lawlessness”.
Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million people. Mikhail was one of two Christian governors appointed by the military rulers, who sought to bring new faces into the administration.
Qena has seen its share of sectarian tension in the past.
In one high-profile case, six Coptic Christians were killed in a drive-by shooting in Nagaa Hamady on Coptic Christmas Eve Jan. 7 last year by Muslims who blamed the Christian community for the rape of a Muslim girl. (Additional reporting by Marwa Awad; Writing by Miral Fahmy; Editing by Sophie Hares)