April 16, 2006
Egypt: Fear and Anger for Copts in Alexandria
The Arabist links to a remarkable first-hand account by an Alexandrian blogger, Jar al Qamar of a knife attack on an Alexandria church, and what happened after. As tempers rise, the National Democratic Party rides to the rescue:
A senior figure in the NDP called Mohamed as-Saadani (of course)started talking about national unity, Egypt, and the usual bullshit. The crowd stopped him short, shouting “Persecuted! Persecuted!”
He tried to calm them, saying, “The government is investigating the matter.”
“The government? Tell the government I say ‘hello.’ What has the government ever done for us? Al-Kosha, Qarqas, and Muharram Bik [sites of previous sectarian violence in Egypt]. Where was the government then?”
Or not. As grievances are recited and the crowd gets even angrier, Qamar realizes something:
I suddenly realized I was the only Muslim in the circle and that I was sitting the midst of an angry group who were attacking anyone who asked them to keep calm. So what do you think they would have done if they had found an enemy in the midst of their ranks. Perhaps I should have gone, but something compelled me to stay and follow the events to their conclusion.
As if fate were conspiring to terrify me, one of them suddenly shouted, “There are Muslims in your midst!”
I surreptitiously pulled down my rolled-up sleeves to hide the fact that I didn’t have a cross tattooed on my arm like everyone else around me did. For the first time, I felt as though I was a minority in a group that wouldn’t accept me on principle. I forced myself to talk to the man next to me to give the appearance of normality.
The bishop arrives, and tries to appeal for calm:
I watched the bishop as he talked with people and called for calm and civilized behavior. He spoke vehemently. “Don’t forget yourselves! If you really love the church and the people who pray there, then don’t strike in the street, strike inside the church.”
I have no experience of how Coptic churches work, but the calm and respect that descended on the street the moment these men appeared left me totally unprepared for the crowd’s response. The minute the father had finished speaking to the demonstrators, I was astonished to hear accusations of betrayal and treason fill the air. People were shouting that the man was an agent of the government, and that he was selling the blood of the martyr and their rights cheaply, that it was people like him who were putting the Copts of Egypt through these troubled times.
And so forth. There's much more in the story. There's some real anger in Egypt these days, based on real and longstanding injustices. This is not a story that's going to go away soon.
(Original Arabic narrative permalinked here)
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An editorial note of explanation regarding the crosses, by longstanding tradition, Copts tatoo a cross in their wrist area. I myself don't know the origin of the practice, although one suspects it originates in a two way pressure of community identification. Oddly Copts were surprised when I was in Egypt that I did not have a cross tatooed as a presumed Xian.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at April 16, 2006 02:19 PM
I know many Ehtiopian Christians get all kinds of crazy tatoo on their body. The ones on the neck is supposed to protect from thyroid illness but some of religious tatoos all over.
Posted by: Bikhair at April 16, 2006 09:36 PM
Coptic cross tattoos (some protestants also get them, most don't) are very subtle & small - just a little cross on the inside of the right wrist, about where a wristwatch band would go. Don't think it has any "meaning" aside from as a badge of belonging - at times of tension, doormen at churches tend to check for tattoos before letting people in.
Posted by: Tom Scudder at April 17, 2006 02:21 AM
Sharpening one's war tools to the tune of "kyrie eleison"?
Irony barometer off the scale.
Sort of spiritual pre-emptive strike for one's soul before what one is planning to happen?
Really, oppressed people do suck.
Posted by: matthew hogan at April 17, 2006 08:09 AM
Granted this is all serious, tragic, and important, but Monty Python still keeps coming into the head:
Hello! What's all this then? Amen!
Are you the police?
The Church Police!
There's another dead bishop on the landing, sergeant!
What is he? R.C. [Roman Catholic] or C. of E. [Church of England]?
How should I know?
Tatooed on the back of their neck!
Posted by: matthew hogan at April 17, 2006 08:56 PM
Ah. Yes. Thanks mate, M.P. is never inappropriate.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at April 18, 2006 01:28 AM
ya abu l-maal,
"uh, what? oh, yes ... solidarity."
Posted by: raf* at April 18, 2006 03:15 AM
Matthew: thanks for the essay link. Encapsulates a lot that I've thought of/faced over the past few years.
Posted by: Tom Scudder at April 18, 2006 08:27 AM
Wow, Matt, that was a really interesting article. It fits in with my thoughts these past few days about sectarianism in Egypt (yesterday having heard two borderline-offensive jokes, one made by Copts re: Muslims, and one the reverse).
Posted by: Anna_in_Cairo at April 19, 2006 07:30 AM