CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's finance minister and deputy prime minister resigned Tuesday in protest over the government's handling of deadly weekend protests that left 26 dead, most of them Coptic Christians, an aide to the minister said.
Hazem El-Beblawi's resignation, which state television also announced, is the first by a senior government official following the deadly clashes Sunday night in which a peaceful protest by Christians demonstrating over an earlier attack on a church in southern Egypt by Muslims turned violent.
El-Beblawi, in a letter to Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, said he was tendering his resignation over the "government's handling of Maspero," the aide told The Associated Press, referring to the state television building by its popular name. The Christians were protesting outside the state television building.
He effectively told Sharaf that he "can't work like this," the aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The resignation came after some 20,000 Egyptians chanted overnight against the ruling military council during a massive funeral procession for 17 Christian protesters killed during the chaotic night. Mourners packed the Coptic Christian Cathedral in Cairo just before midnight Monday, filling hallways and corridors as funeral prayers were led by top assistants to Pope Shenouda III.
Slogans of "Down with military rule" interrupted the prayers, as many accused the military of bearing primary responsibility for the violence.
"The people want to topple the Marshal", the mourners chanted in reference to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of the ruling military council, which took over power on Feb. 11 after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in a mass uprising.
The protesters who were killed were among the more than 1,000 that were marching on the state television building when they came under attack. Forensic reports said many of the deaths were caused by armored vehicles that ran down protesters, or by gunshots — findings that stirred anger against the military.
El-Beblawi's resignation, coupled with the continuing political uncertainty and instability in the country, is likely to further unsettle investor confidence in the country's economy.
Egypt's benchmark stock index took a beating Monday, dropping over 2 percent amid fallout from weekend violence, but largely reversed the losses on Tuesday. Still, the country faces massive fiscal and economic challenges as the continuing protests undercut tourism and foreign direct investment — two key foreign currency earners.