Egyptian Copts, reeling from violence, want protection - CNN.comMuslim-Christian sectarian violence intensified in Egypt this weekend, spurring an emergency meeting of the Cabinet and public exhortations from Coptic Christians for international protection...
Problems between Egypt's Muslim majority and its Coptic Christian minority have been on the rise in recent months, with a number of violent clashes reported between the two groups. Tensions flared after a recently-published U.S. government report on international religious freedom detailed the hostility targeting the minority Copts in the predominantly Muslim society.
In general, in countries in which ethnic or other longstanding divisions exist, tensions can be diffuses through two mechanisms:
1) Vibrant representative institutions widely viewed as legitimate and sufficient protections of minority rights (constitution + robust judiciary).
2) A heavy-handed government that suppresses the divisions.
Canada and the U.S., among other nations, are characterized by the former situation. Egypt under President Mubarak was characterized by the latter situation. So was Yugoslavia under President Tito. When central power eroded, the centrifugal forces associated with the divisions gained strength. In Yugoslavia, two painful episodes of civil war (Balkans civil war between the Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims and later the Kosovo conflict) resulted. In the months since President Mubarak's ouster, violence between Egypt's Muslim and Copt communities has increased.
Egypt won't necessarily go Yugoslavia's way. The military remains the most formidable force in society. Egypt's post-Mubarak era could be one characterized by more representative government under a framework that preserves military dominance. That framework could, ultimately, slam the lid on Muslim-Copt tensions, so long as they don't get out of hand before such a framework is in place. On the other hand, an attempt at representative government prior to the development of robust institutions and a constitutional framework that protects minority rights, could lead to continued and even greater violence between the two communities, much as things played out in Iraq following Saddam Hussein's ouster.
Right now, the transitional period represents uncertainty and ambiguity. Central power in Egypt is weaker than it was during the Mubarak era. Not surprisingly, long-simmering tensions between the two communities are playing out and in increasingly violent fashion.