Egyptian officials said at least 13 people died in violent clashes in Cairo on March 9 after a Muslim mob attacked thousands of Christians protesting the burning of a Coptic church. Witnesses say a crowd of some 4,000 Muslims attacked and burned the village church in Sol on March 4 after a conflict erupted over a romantic relationship between a Coptic man and a Muslim woman. Members of the Muslim woman's family violently clashed over how to respond to the relationship, leaving two men dead. After a Saturday funeral for one of the dead, a Muslim mob burned the nearby Coptic church.
Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the ruling military council governing Egypt, responded to the Coptic protests by saying the army would rebuild the church before Easter. But when Christians continued protesting, a Muslim mob attacked, and the two sides clashed for nearly four hours, leaving at least 13 dead and 140 wounded. The clash came less than two weeks after a Coptic priest was found dead in the central Egyptian city of Assiut. A fellow clergyman said that the priest suffered stab wounds, and that neighbors reported seeing masked gunmen leaving the house, shouting, "Allahu akbar," the Muslim phrase meaning "Allah is the greatest."
Powerful free speech
The Supreme Court delivered a near unanimous decision in favor of Westboro Baptist Church at the beginning of March, ruling that the Phelps family-which largely makes up the church-had a right to protest at a slain Marine's funeral. Albert Snyder, the father of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, had sued Westboro for protesting outside his son's funeral in 2006, holding signs like "Matt in hell," and "Thank God for dead soldiers." Westboro, not part of any mainline Baptist denomination, believes soldiers' deaths are God's judgment for the nation's sin of homosexuality.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, concluding that under the First Amendment the Phelpses' speech was protected because it concerned a public matter. "Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and-as it did here-inflict great pain," he wrote. "On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a nation we have chosen a different course-to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."
Justice Samuel Alito was the lone dissenter, writing that Westboro was not entitled under the First Amendment to launch what he considered a personal attack against the Snyder family. "Petitioner Albert Snyder is not a public figure. He is simply a parent whose son, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, was killed in Iraq." The majority opinion noted that the case was decided based on the specific circumstances of Matthew Snyder's funeral, and shouldn't be read as a broad ruling.
Congress on March 3 reached a bipartisan agreement on healthcare, when 76 House Democrats joined Republicans for a successful repeal vote. The House voted 314-112 to eliminate a controversial business tax destined to be a paperwork nightmare for small business owners. The 1099 provision required corporations to report all payments of $600 or more. Designed to pump $22 billion into federal coffers to help pay for federal healthcare, the red tape, business owners warned, would hamper job growth. "In these tough economic times, every dollar counts," said freshman Republican Rep. Bobby Schilling, who owns a pizzeria in Moline, Ill. The Senate last month passed its own version of 1099 repeal, and President Barack Obama has said he would consider signing off on it.
The Obama administration, after vowing to close Guantanamo Bay and prosecute its detainees in civilian courts, won't do either. The president issued an executive order March 7 ordering trials to resume at Guantanamo by military commission-the method used by the Bush administration but banned by Obama at the beginning of his presidency, which at the time halted cases in progress. Using civilian trials of detainees has met widespread opposition. Now the Obama administration calls the commissions "an available and important tool." Officials say the president remains committed to closing the prison but would not comment on the pending trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the confessed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole, would likely be among the first to be tried at Guantanamo.
An ethnic Albanian from Kosovo killed Airman 1st Class Zachary Ryan Cuddeback, 21, and Senior Airman Nicholas J. Alden, 25, and wounded two other U.S. military personnel after he boarded their bus at the Frankfurt airport March 2 and opened fire. Arid Uka, also 21, would have continued shooting but his handgun jammed. As he fled, a U.S. airman pursued him into the terminal, where he was overpowered and arrested. German authorities said it was the first terrorist attack in the country since 9/11. The busload of 16 airmen was heading to a nearby base before deploying to Afghanistan. Uka said he planned the attack "as revenge for the American mission in Afghanistan" after seeing a YouTube video posted recently on jihadist forums that shows men in U.S. uniforms appearing to rape a young Afghan woman. The Pentagon said the video could not be verified and was the work of extremists.
Bangladesh officials forced Muhammad Yunus to resign as head of the Grameen Bank, the pioneering-and profitable-bank for the poor that Yunus founded in 1976. Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for developing microfinance, a tool for providing small loans to the poor that has spread around the world, including recent branches in the United States. But the government says that Yunus, now 70, is not permitted to head the bank because the country's mandatory retirement age is 60. Grameen has appealed the decision. Yunus believes the government "would like to take control of the bank," and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said microcredit institutions are "sucking blood" from low-income borrowers. Grameen Bank borrowers make up 75 percent of its shareholders, and the government controls the remaining 25 percent.
At least one is confirmed dead and more than 4,000 Ethiopian Christians fled their homes after violent attacks in the western region of Jimma in early March. A large Muslim group burned at least 90 buildings belonging to Christians-including churches, a Bible school, an orphanage, and private homes-after a Muslim accused a Christian of desecrating a Quran. Church leaders said that local police failed to stop the attacks, and that the government sent military forces to end the violence. Authorities arrested 130 people, and local Christians asked the government for greater protections against future violence.
The South Korean government has resumed aid package drops over North Korea for the first time since the north attacked the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong last year. Using baskets tied to balloons with devices to guide and track them, the Ministry of National Defense has sent more than 10,000 packages of daily necessities and medical supplies to North Koreans, according to South Korean assemblywoman Song Young Sun and democracy activist Norbert Vollertsen.
The South Korean military also dropped more than 2 million leaflets since February, according to Song, containing messages about uprisings in Egypt and Libya. "Something may happen in North Korea also," she said. "We, the South Korean military and the government should be prepared for all contingencies in North Korea." Also this month the Seoul-based Fighters for Free North Korea said it would send about 200,000 leaflets, one-dollar bills, and USB flash drives carrying videos on the recent wave of uprising against authoritarian rulers in Egypt, Libya, and other Middle Eastern countries.
Artistic but not free
Free speech isn't for everyone in Manhattan's artsy SoHo neighborhood. Life Always, a Texas-based pro-life group, bought billboard space after statistics showed that 60 percent of black pregnancies in New York City end in abortion. The billboard displaying the message, "The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb," got blasted by pro-abortion groups and local politicians. In less than a week, billboard owner Lamar Advertising Company removed it. The company told The New York Times that it provoked harassment toward workers at a nearby restaurant, but local civil-rights lawyer Norman Siegel said: "The principle of free speech is easy when the speech is something that's popular and noncontroversial. The real test is when you disagree with the content of the speech, and you still defend the right of someone to articulate the message."