By Yasmine Saleh
CAIRO, April 21 (Reuters) - Protesters in a southern
Egyptian city insisted on Thursday their new Christian governor
resign, stepping up a week-long challenge to his appointment by
the country's military rulers.
The army generals ruling Egypt since President Hosni
Mubarak's ouster appointed Emad Mikhail, a Copt and a senior
former officer in Egypt's vilified police force, as governor of
Qena province earlier this month.
But he has so far not taken up his post because thousands of
demonstrators have contested the decision, resorting to the same
people-power that ended Mubarak's 30-year rule in February.
Protesters have blocked highways and railway tracks leading
to Qena, a province with a large Coptic Christian population and
whose previous governor was also a Christian.
They have also surrounded the governor's office, vowing to
prevent Mikhail from ever entering.
"Mikhail, Mikhail, you're never coming here," protesters
Ibrahim Saadani, one of the protesters, told Reuters by
telephone: "We do not want someone from the previous regime and
worst still from the police force as governor. The revolution
came to change the previous regime but we are not seeing new
The protesters said they would hold a big rally on Friday to
force Mikhail's resignation and would not negotiate with a
government envoy sent from Cairo to resolve the matter.
"We're not backing down until he is removed. He has got to
go," another protester said.
Local media had reported radical Islamists were spearheading
the protests, raising fears they could descend into sectarian
violence in a province where Muslims and Christians have often
clashed in the past.
But witnesses said Coptic Christians, and other Muslims, had
joined the demonstrations because of Mikhail's past.
The governor previously headed a criminal investigations
department and reported to former interior minister Habib
al-Adli, who is on trial for corruption and the security forces'
violent crackdown on the uprising.
"Some people don't like the fact he's Christian, others
think that because he's Christian like his predecessor he won't
be tough enough on security and there are a lot of people who
also don't trust him because he's ex-police," said Youssef
Ragab, a journalist in Qena.
So far, the army and police have stayed on the sidelines of
the demonstrations, a stance that was unthinkable before Mubarak
was deposed. The government has said it would allow the protests
to continue, but would stop any "acts of lawlessness".
Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt's 80 million
people. Mikhail was one of two Christian governors appointed by
the military rulers, who sought to bring new faces into the
Qena has seen its share of sectarian tension in the past.
In one high-profile case, six Coptic Christians were killed
in a drive-by shooting in Nagaa Hamady on Coptic Christmas Eve
Jan. 7 last year by Muslims who blamed the Christian community
for the rape of a Muslim girl.
(Additional reporting by Marwa Awad; Writing by Miral Fahmy;
Editing by Sophie Hares)
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