CAIRO (Reuters) - Muslims in southern Egypt protested for a third day on Sunday over the appointment of a Christian governor, saying his predecessor, also a Christian, had failed to solve their problems.
Thousands rallied outside the governor’s office in Qena and prevented employees from entering, blocked highways leading to the town and sat on a railway line into the province demanding that the appointment of Emad Mikhail be reversed.
Egypt’s interim military rulers, who took control when President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising, selected Mikhail last week as one of several new appointments to replace officials associated with his autocratic regime.
The protesters say Mikhail’s predecessor, Magdy Ayoub, failed to stem sectarian violence and address poverty and unemployment, which grew during his tenure. Witnesses say some Coptic Christians joined the protest as well.
“The experience of a Coptic governor has failed. There is no objection to his Coptic identity but the previous governor left a negative impression of Christian officials,” Youssef Ragab, a witness in Qena, told Reuters by telephone.
Residents say Ayoub was too weak in enforcing laws to quell rising tension between Muslims and Christians, fearing his background might imply sectarian allegiance.
“The protesters don’t want any governor to favour one religious group over the other,” Ragab said.
Other protesters said they objected to Qena being a province always governed by Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million people. Its Christian population lives mainly in the south.
“They are acting as though Qena province has been allocated to Christian officials. If a Christian was to be appointed to another province, there is nothing wrong with that,” said Ayman Hassan Maged, a lawyer and resident.
The protest took a more aggressive turn as some radical Salafi Islamists in the crowd demanded a Muslim official, saying “we want it Islamic.” Some even threatened to kill Mikhail if he came to his office.
Witnesses in the city said Egypt’s military, concerned that the demonstration would spark inter-faith violence, had moved to protect churches in the province.
Qena has seen its share of sectarian tension in past years.
In one high-profile case, six Coptic Christians were killed in a drive-by shooting in Nagaa Hamady on Coptic Christmas Eve on January 7 last year by Muslims who blamed the Christian community for the rape of a Muslim girl.
Many of the protesters showed no sign of budging until their demand for a different governor was met.
“We have been in front of the governor’s office for three days and we will stay here for another three months or three years,” one protester said by telephone.