Mathbahit Nag Hammadi … Dimaa’ fi Mizwad al-Maseeh (The Nag Hammadi Massacre … Blood in Jesus’ Manger); Compiled by Robeir al-Faris; Watani Printing and Publishing; Cairo; 2010
14 February 2010
Watani’s most recent book was out last week in honour of the victims of the Nag Hammadi Christmas Eve crime. Compiled by Robeir al-Faris, Mathbahit Nag Hammadi … Dimaa’ fi Mizwad al-Maseeh (The Nag Hammadi Massacre … Blood in Jesus’ Manger) documents the sectarian violence in Nag Hammadi and Bahgoura, and presents a collection of articles printed in the Egyptian press predicting the incident, analysing it, and calling for measures to end sectarian strife. The book includes live reporting from Nag Hammadi and Bahgoura by Watani reporters Nader Shukry and Amir al-Sarraf who also visited the families who had just buried their lost, loved ones, and talked to them. The book additionally cites the experience of those who were injured and hospitalised.
Not in vain
The book rings a clarion bell that the culture of hatred which targets Christians and the rising rate of bloodshed, as exemplified in the Christmas Eve crime, is on the rise. Most witnesses voice a sentiment that has become prevalent among Egypt’s Copts: that they are being persecuted for their faith and that this marks a new age of martyrdom.
The introduction to the book reminds the reader that, at the time of its publication, the Egyptian Parliament was busy denouncing the condemnation of the Nag Hammadi crime by the European Parliament and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, branding the reaction as foreign intervention in Egypt’s domestic affairs. Egypt’s Parliament insisted the crime was an individual one which came in retaliation to an alleged rape of a Muslim girl by a Coptic man in a village in Farshout, in the vicinity of Nag Hammadi. Watani reminds that the alleged rape crime, which is said to have occurred in November 2009 and then led to a vicious attack against the Copts of Farshout—threatening their lives and resulting in some EGP4.6 millions in losses—is yet before the court and there are strong indications that the defendant may be innocent. “This book has not been published to cry over spilt milk or to foster additional pain and bitterness,” the introduction confirms. “It is out to remind that something has to be urgently done to avoid another ‘Nag Hammadi’. If this end is achieved, the blood of the martyrs will not have been spilt in vain.”
The book encompasses a collection of articles by a number of intellectuals and political activists who analyse the crime and the general climate in Egypt, morbid with hate of the Coptic ‘other’.
In what now seems like a prophetic article printed by a Cairo weekly, the State-owned Rose al-Youssef at the outset of the New Year, the Coptic file editor Osama Salama, predicted more sectarian violence in 2010. He reminded of the November 2009 Farshout incident and warned that the stage was set for more violence in the Nag Hammadi region. The causes of sectarian sedition, Mr Salama wrote, were left untreated and the wounds were merely ‘tranquilised’ by ineffective temporary measures which more often than not were unjust to Copts. “The Copt,” he said, “is regarded by many Muslims as the ‘other’ who should be condemned for practicing a different religion, building a church, or daring to befriend a Muslim of opposite sex.”
The writer Emad Thomas comments on the flagrant security failure to avert the crime or to protect the Copts. “When people are afraid to go out into the streets following the crime—even though they are the injured party—it means only one thing: that they do not feel secure,” Mr Thomas writes. “This proves the utter failure of the security system.
“No wonder so many Christians think about leaving Egypt altogether and emigrating to escape oppression and discrimination. Such sectarian events unfortunately implant seeds of fear and insecurity in the Copts and make them seek shelter abroad.”
In an interview with Amr Adeeb who hosts the TV talk show al-Qahira al-Youm (Cairo Today) on the Orbit satellite channel, politician Talaat al-Sadat criticised the visual media for widely depicting the crime as an individual rather than a sectarian one.
This, he said, was the [ineffectual] official version introduced by the security apparatus in an effort to save Egypt’s face and to calm down public wrath.
Refuting all claims that the crime was individual, Helmy al-Namnam wrote in his column in the Cairo independent daily al-Masry al-Youm, under the title “The sectarian crime” analysing the scene and the details of the crime, and concluding that it was indeed sectarian. He strongly criticised Egypt’s cultural and political climate, which is brimming with fundamentalist thought, as well as the double standards which cite “citizenship concepts” in the first article of the Constitution and Islamic concepts in the second. “The human identity has been replaced by the religious identity,” he wrote.
In the Cairo daily al-Dostour, chief editor Ibrahim Eissa wrote under the title “Bullet Bells” that the reasons behind Nag Hammadi crime is that we have been too long tolerant with the salafi thought which spouts hatred of Copts and embraces Malaysians or Pakistanis as closer to Egyptian Muslims than Egyptian Christians.
The collection of articles, of which those cited here are but a sample, concludes with one by Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of Watani. Sidhom wrote highlighting a statement by the National Council for Human Rights which called for strong measures against the propagation of fanaticism and sectarianism, and for harsh penalties against criminals who target Copts. Since the current political and legal climate has failed to curb sectarianism, the NCHR raised its statement to President Mubarak for prompt action.
Finally, it is important to realise that the religious chasm between the two major creeds of the Egyptian people is too wide to cross, Sidhom wrote. Therefore only a belief in their common humanity, strengthened by their common Egyptian identity, can reunite them in a common purpose to build a modern, peaceful, prosperous society.