Last winter and spring I expressed very qualified and modest optimism about the prospects for a liberal democracy in Tunisia, and far less of one in Egypt. Some updates….
Tunisian police on Sunday arrested dozens of Islamist demonstrators set on attacking the offices of a television channel that had shown the award-winning film “Persepolis,” officials said.
The assault is the latest in a rise in attacks against perceived symbols of secularism by hardcore Muslims in Tunisia ahead of this month’s election. Once suppressed by the former regime, conservative Muslims are increasingly making themselves heard in the country’s politics.
Interior Ministry spokesman Hichem Meddeb said police blocked the attackers before they could reach the offices of the Nessma private television channel in the center of Tunis and arrested around 50 of them.
Still very qualified, as “moderate Islamists” are odds on favorite to come to power in the elections next month. But, Tunisia does have an active and robust secular segment of society which may resist any steamrolling. In contrast, Egypt….
At least 19 people were killed Sunday when a protest by Egyptian Christians over the burning of a church escalated into rioting against military rule, with some protesters crushed to death by military vehicles and violence reaching levels not seen since the uprising that overthrew the president in February.
The rioting took place against a backdrop of tension between protesters and the military, which has been in power since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, over the military’s continued postponement of its withdrawal from power. The protests were aimed at the military, both for its perceived failure to protect Coptic churches, and outrage over its prolonged rule, which a recently released timetable said could last into 2014.
The rally began in the mostly Coptic neighborhood of Shubra early Sunday, fueled by anger over the burning of a church in Aswan, in southern Egypt, last week.
Copts, members of Egypt’s Christian minority sect, and some Muslims marched to the Radio and Television Building, a skyscraper in downtown Cairo on the Nile River, where another sit-in was already being staged.
Witnesses said that around 6 p.m., when the two protests converged, protesters and plainclothes security forces began throwing rocks at each other.
The security forces responded by driving their vehicles into the crowd. At least four Copts were run over and killed, witnesses said.
In all, 19 people were killed, including two soldiers, the government said.
State television and radio broadcast a message asking “honest Egyptians” to come out of their homes and protect the security forces.
Some Muslims who heeded the call clashed with the Coptic protesters, but many joined them in solidarity. By late evening thousands of people still on the streets engaged in sporadic clashes with hundreds of military police officers and security personnel.