16 January 2011
In the aftermath of Alexandria 2011
A hideous scene in the direct aftermath of the Alexandria explosion sent shivers of disbelieving horror down the spines of all who witnessed it. For Watani reader and media consultant Ramy Boutros, the sight was too horrid, too painful, too loathsome to be true. Mr Boutros wrote to Watani describing the bloodbath in front of the Church of the Saints on New Year Eve as reported on TV news channels and Internet news sites directly following the explosion. “Blood was spattered all around staining the walls of the church and nearby buildings as high as 20 metres above,” Mr Boutros wrote. “Parts of bodies which had flown around had smashed to the ground or got caught in tree branches, and the bodies and parts of bodies littered the street in pools of blood. Those who had escaped death or injury were screaming in horror and shock as they tried to look for family members and friends among the survivors, the injured or the dead; or to gather the body parts they could recognise to have belonged to their loved ones. The scene was so horrifying it was surreal.”
“Amid the blood-curdling carnage,” Mr Boutros proceeded, “a group of outsiders converged on the scene wildly shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest), sneering and hurling stones at the Copts, causing even more malevolent chaos than there already was. When the Copts turned against these men the security men rushed in using rubber bullets and live ammunition.
“Who these men so devoid of the slightest shred of human sentiment were, I don’t know. Their brutality doubly augmented the agony of the already agonising event. Comfort only came with the solidarity shown by so many other Muslims who rushed to denounce that heinous act and vowed to protect their Coptic brothers and sisters.”
Is it any surprise that Coptic anger blew up? Even as the bodies lay on the street before ambulance cars could arrive, the Copts turned and hurled stones at the mosque across the street from the church, through the microphone of which cries of Allahu Akbar had flown. They broke into the mosque, attacking with stones and empty bottles.
All throughout the two days that followed, wrathful Coptic demonstrations roamed the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, and other provinces all over Egypt. Thousands took part. They cried out calling for justice. Many Muslims joined in solidarity.
Father Maqqar of the Church of the Saints in Alexandria talked to Watani. “Copts are angry,” he said. “The huge change in their normally docile behaviour is a normal consequence of the suppression and injustice they have been groaning under for long decades.
“We clerics have always been telling Coptic youth to be patient and ‘behave as a Christian’; but now it is obvious the genie is out of the bottle.
“If any good whatsoever can come out of the heinous terrorist crime against our Church and congregation, it would be that the State would see the necessity of resolving our long-suffering grievances and start taking corrective action. Children should be taught at school tolerance and acceptance of the other, not loathing and hatred. Fanatic sermons by mosque imams should be stopped. Criminals in crimes against Copts should be caught and penalised, and all forms of religious discrimination should be discontinued.”
For his part, writer and journalist Ahmed Taha al-Naqr sees Coptic anger as natural, even if unprecedented. “But the crime itself is, for Egypt, unprecedented. The enormous anger was on the same scale as the enormity of the crime.”
Copts have legitimate demands which ought to be handled as national demands in the first place, Naqr says. “We should seize the opportunity to put our house in order, he confirms, before we hasten to denounce ‘foreign intervention’ in the Coptic question.”
No fear, no caution
“Unprecedented is that Copts have broken the barrier of fear and thrown caution to the wind,” is how writer Nur-al-Huda Zaky describes Coptic anger. “It is a first that thousands of Copts have demonstrated all over Egypt, announcing their anger at the authorities for the multiple grievances and injustices inflicted upon them as Christians.
The absence of transparency and inaccessibility of information makes Copts—and Egyptians in general—Ms Zaky says, wary of official reports on attacks against them. A knife-wielding man who attacked the congregations of three churches in Alexandria—among which was the Church of the Saints—in 2006, killing one man and injuring others, was declared mentally deranged and escaped penalty.
“Most important about Coptic anger,” Ms Zaky says, “is that Copts realise their enemy is not the mainstream Muslim fellow-citizen.”
Sociologist and journalist Ammar Ali Hassan believes it was entirely natural and positive on the part of Copts to spontaneously express their anger, to the point of cheering against the high-ranking State officials who failed to protect them or give them their rights. Dr Hassan is not worried that the Coptic uprising may cause a rift in the nation; “Egyptian history has seen revolutions by Copts over the years when the injustices they sustained became intolerable.”
Out of the church and into the street
“Most notably, and maybe most worrying for the authorities,” another writer, Abul-Maati al-Sandoubi, told Watani, “is that their anger took the Copts, who had always been cocooned in the safety of their Church, out into the streets. It had become a familiar sight to see Copts demonstrate and remonstrance within the walls of church grounds; to see them roam the streets in anger implies they have cast off the cloak of the religious authority they have for so long huddled under. This should open the door for Copts to demand their rights through civic effort, through civil society institutions instead of through the religious establishment.”
A final word by Watani’s Adel al-Dawi can be a veritable source of solace. “We perfectly understand your [Coptic] anger,” Dawi wrote. “How can we not, when we share every bit of it; all the pain and legitimate fury. Yet, at this critical time, I truly hope we can together transcend the wounds and pain. We should join hands to defeat and overcome the terrorism which, with the first minutes into the new year, sought to target Egypt’s heart.”