Egyptian Coptic Christians clash with soldiers and anti-riot police during a protest in Cairo on October 9, 2011
Egyptian Coptic Christians clash with soldiers and anti-riot police during a protest in Cairo against the attack on a church in southern Egypt in October 9, 2011. Witnesses said the army violently dispersed protesters by shooting and running them down with armoured cars, leaving almost 30 people dead. © Owaise Mahmoud - AFP/File
Egyptian Coptic Christians clash with soldiers and anti-riot police during a protest in Cairo on October 9, 2011
Haitham El Tabei, AFP
Last updated: October 9, 2012

Sister of slain Egyptian Copt retraces last steps

Dressed in a black shirt bearing her brother's name, Mary Daniel retraces his last steps before he was killed a year ago in a brutal crackdown on a Coptic Christian rally that rocked the Egyptian minority.

Mina, a 20-year-old who idolised Che Guevara, had left his home on October 9 2011 to join the Coptic demonstration outside the state television building in Cairo to denounce an arson attack on a church.

Witnesses said the army -- in power at the time following the 2011 uprising that overthrew Hosni Mubarak -- violently dispersed protesters by shooting and running them down with armoured cars, leaving almost 30 people dead.

A year later, thousands of Copts and supporters took same the path of that march, walking solemnly from the working class and historically Christian majority neighbourhood of Shubra to the television's headquarters.

Before the underground train came to a stop at the "Martyrs" station, named after protesters who fell to Mubarak's security forces during the uprising, Daniel said her brother had yet to receive justice.

"The only difference between this year and last is that those who killed my brother have been honoured and given senior posts," she said.

Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, elected in June, relieved the military chief and defence minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi of his post in a power struggle with the military, but retained him as an adviser.

"Nothing has changed. The regime remains the same," she said.

Since the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak in February 2011, the Copts, who make up about 10 percent of the country's 82-million people, suffered an increase in sectarian attacks that further unsettled the beleaguered community.

"I will feel content, and that justice has been delivered for the martyrs (killed at the rally) when we have full citizenship and when the revolution's demands are fulfilled," said Daniel.

"These were my brother's dreams," she said.

After Mina's death, the country went from military rule to an Islamist presidency that had been opposed by many Copts, and the former army rulers have escaped censure for the bloody crackdown.

A military court sentenced two conscripts to two years in prison each for manslaughter, and a third to three years, over their response to the protest, Egyptian media reported.

Ishaq Ibrahim, a lawyer with human rights group the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said the military still enjoyed immunity from justice.

The military has denied its role in the killing of the protesters, blaming it on an unnamed "third party."

"The fate of the case after a year is preposterous. Justice has not taken its course, and those responsible, and those who incited, have not been held accountable," said Ibrahim.

Despite Morsi's pledges to protect Copts, the community says it still suffers attacks and is the targets of incitement by extremist Islamists.

In Rafah, an eastern Egyptian border town, Coptic families were forced to abandon their homes in the past few weeks after receiving threats.

A visit to the region by Morsi, to reassure the Christians, was followed hours later by a shooting attack on the home of one of Rafah's remaining Copts.

In the past few months, Copts have been jailed or charged with allegedly insulting Islam.

"Our fears have increased," said Nadir Shukri, the spokesman for the Maspero Youth Union, a group of Coptic activists formed after last year's deadly rally.

"The situation is getting worse, with the continuation of sectarian attacks and their spreading across the country," he said.

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