Nice to see Christians finally standing up for themselves, for far too long they have been turning the other cheek.

ASSIUT, Egypt (AP) — The southern Egyptian city of Assiut has long been a haven for radical Islamists, and its Christian minority has largely kept a low profile. That all changed this weekend.

An estimated crowd of 50,000 packed the streets this weekend to join protests calling for President Mohammed Morsi’s ouster, prompting a violent response that left three people dead.

The show of defiance can only be fairly measured in view of the city’s bloody history and the shifts in the local centers of power when Morsi became president a year ago, empowering many of the hard-line Islamist groups around the country, including those in Assiut. […]

In the run-up to the opposition rally, several activists also received threatening text messages. “All of you infidels will die,” said one, sent to Christian activist Joseph Amin.

The protesters burned posters of Morsi and Assem Abdel-Maged, a longtime leader of Gamaa.

“Oh Assiut, tell the terrorists that Muslims and Christians are united!” they chanted. “Down, down with Assem Abdel-Maged the terrorist!” they screamed.

Abdel-Maged, a native of Assiut, has been taking the lead in a campaign to discredit Morsi’s critics, delivering fiery speeches that brand them as communists, extremist Christians and paid Mubarak loyalists.

The violence began soon after the festive rally got underway when a suspected Islamist riding behind another man on a motorbike opened fire on the crowd, killing a 21-year-old Christian man, Abanob Atef, and injuring 11. Protesters used the blood from the fatal head wound to write on the ground “Erhal!” or “Leave!” — the chant of the Arab Spring protesters now directed at Morsi.

Enraged by the violence, many of the protesters moved to the nearby villa housing the local branch of the Freedom and Justice party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Suspected Morsi supporters in the villa opened fire on the protesters, killing two more and injuring another 21, according to security officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. Fighting continued with the protesters pelting the villa with firebombs and rocks. Policemen, angered by the death of one of their own, joined the fight on the side of the protesters.

The fighting continued for hours, with the police occasionally retreating because of heavy gunfire. Morsi’s supporters, some wearing construction helmets and homemade body armor, shot at the protesters and police from pickup trucks and motorbikes that came in waves.

Both the Gamaa and the Muslim Brotherhood in Assiut have denied involvement in the violence.

Violence resumed Monday, with about 3,000 anti-Morsi protesters storming and torching the villa housing the Freedom and Justice party.