Egypt's new crusade: horsemen ride against Christians in the South
On horseback and carrying sheathed swords at their hips, a group of Muslim zealots rode through the southern Egyptian city of Assiut in a show of religious intimidation last week, shortly before the referendum on the country’s draft constitution.
Evoking images of the seventh-century Muslim invasions of Christian Egypt, and not unlike the vanguards of Christian crusader armies three centuries later, a group of fanatics rode at the head of thousands of devout followers in what is the latest round of an old religious struggle.
The horsemen - symbolically significant, perhaps, if you believe the predictions of an impending apocalypse - rode at the head of 50,000 Muslims chanting anti-Christian slogans.
Like loyalist marchers in Northern Ireland, they made sure to pass through mainly Christian areas of the city, as residents shuttered their shops and stayed indoors.
The scene has added to the fears of Egypt’s Christian minority, who worry over the repercussions of a resurgent Islam in political power. In Christian theology, the second horseman of the apocalypse carried a sword representing persecution of Christians and blood to be spilled.
Christians in the area have fought back in street protests calling for the constitution to be shelved. Tawadros II, the new Coptic pope appointed last month, has called parts of the charter “disastrous”.