CAIRO – The brutal assault on Sunday, Oct. 9, on Coptic protesters -- the deadliest violence since Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February -- resulted in at least two dozen deaths and was seen by many of Egypt's Christians as confirmation of their fears that the revolution would usher in an era of violent Islamist ascendancy.
That was certainly the concern among many in my Coptic family. I had landed in Cairo at noon, a few hours before the clashes broke out, and the unease among Christians in Egypt was almost the first topic of conversation when my father's cousin came to pick me up and drive me to a family birthday party at the nearby Heliopolis Club. "Why is America endorsing the Muslim Brotherhood?" his wife asked me. (She was referring to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's comments in June that Washington would engage in limited contacts with the Islamist group, which she and many others here took as support of the Brotherhood.)
Given the escalation in sectarian tensions -- a member of their church had been beaten at a demonstration just weeks earlier -- she and her husband were understandably fearful about where the country was headed, as are the vast majority of Copts. At the same time, though, they both said they thought the revolution had been a good thing and were trying to remain hopeful about the future of Egypt.
That, though, was before the news of the Army's attack on the protesters had come through. As the children played at the club, some of the adults followed news reports of the unfolding event on their cell phones. I had spent much of the evening engrossed in conversation with a cousin in his mid-20s, one of just a few of my relatives who had supported the revolution from the get-go and had visited Tahrir Square. He was attuned to the Coptic community's worries -- "terrified" is a word one hears a lot these days -- but he remained convinced that Egypt could emerge from its period of turmoil a better country.
By that point in the evening, everyone in our group had heard that live ammunition had been fired into the crowd of demonstrators; my cousin's mother sternly urged him to be careful going home and call her once he got there. He remained sanguine, nodding his assent, but there was no denying that tensions had risen perceptibly among our group.
It wasn't until I got home at about 10 that evening and was able to read news reports that I realized the extent of the tragedy -- and of the disinformation that had been disseminated on government-controlled television. Early reports said -- falsely -- that soldiers had been set upon by Coptic protesters and killed, and encouraged the public to go protect the soldiers from the Christian demonstrators. Mobs took to the streets and were randomly attacking anyone they believed to be Christian, according to Facebook and Twitter accounts from people on the scene.