16 April 2011
Friday afternoon witnessed a large Coptic demonstration moving from the Cairo district of Shubra—known to have a large Coptic population—to Tahrir Square.
The demonstration was held to mark 40 days since the death of eight young men from the garbage collector district of Muqattam, who lost their lives some six weeks ago. They had been part of a large Coptic protest against the injustice inflicted on the Copts of the village of Sole, some 30km south of Cairo, whose church had been torched and demolished by Muslim extremists. Instead of bringing the culprits to justice, the authorities asked the Copts of the Sole to give up on their church and build another outside the village. This outraged the Copts nationwide who countered with large protests. In response, the Sole church was rebuilt by the armed forces and handed over to the Sole congregation last Wednesday.
The Friday demonstrators, whose numbers exceeded 10,000, were mainly Copts but were later joined by Muslims who support the cause of national unity and equal citizenship rights for all Egyptians.
The demonstration began at Dawaran Shubra headed by a pyramid-shaped memorial carrying the photographs of the martyrs. Following came a procession formed of the drummer and trumpeter boy scouts of the Church of the Holy Virgin at Ezbet al-Nakhl and by the members of the church choir dressed in the tricolor of Egypt’s flag: red, white and black.
Heading the demonstrators were several Coptic activists including Michael Meunier, Amir Ramzy, Fr Mittias Nasr and Fr Filopatir Gamil, as well as members of the Maspero Youth Movement. The movement was born out of the Coptic large protests held last March in front of the Radio and TV building in Maspero, Cairo, against the Sole incident injustice.
In Tahrir, the demonstration reached its destination and the Egyptian national anthem was played, followed by a rendition of “Lord, bless my country” by the choir.
The Muslim demonstrators held the Cross and the Qur’an, and insisted all Egyptians were equal and held the same rights and duties.
Fr Mittias and Fr Filopatir gave speeches in which they commemorated the martyrs, then reminded that several of the Coptic demands presented at Maspero to the ruling Military Council remain unanswered.
Even though the Sole church had been rebuilt, Fr Mittias said, the culprits have not been caught, let alone brought to justice.
The dilemma of the Maghagha bishopric church remains unresolved. Maghagha Copts had in 2009 been asked by the then Minya governor Ahmed Diaa’ Eddin to demolish their old church as a precondition to build a new one they badly needed due to the growing congregation. The Copts pulled down their old church in March 2010 but, until today, they have been denied permission to build a new one in its stead.
Fr Mittias drew attention at the several churches and Coptic community centres closed down by the previous security apparatus and awaiting permits to reopen. He also reminded that the Maspero protestors had called for the release of Tassoni (Sister) Mariam Ragheb who is serving time in prison on charges connected to facilitating the adoption of Christian babies by Egyptian-American couples. Adoption is banned in Islam, but allowed in Christianity.
The Copts of the Minya village of Badraman were also there, vocally presenting their case. They had been forced to flee their village from the face of a strongman, commonly given the dreadful name of Holako, who terrorised them, exacting tribute money in exchange for their safety—up to a point. Those who would not pay, or continue to pay, tribute were attacked, beaten up, robbed, their women raped before their eyes as they were tied up with ropes, their homes and shops plundered, and their fields and cattle burned. The Badramanis came to Cairo to demand protection by the security authorities and the armed forces but, even though one raid was conducted against the strongman and a few of his men were caught, nothing further was done. The result was that he retaliated with a vengeance against the village Copts. They are again in Cairo defending their case but, so far, their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
Fr Filopateer reminded of the many Coptic young women who had ‘disappeared’ since the security lapse on 29 January. Nothing is so far known about any of these women.
During the speech of Fr Mittias, the azaan, the call for Muslim prayers—it was time for the evening prayers then—was heard through the microphone of the nearby Omar Makram mosque. Fr Mittias halted his speech until the Muslim prayers were over. His move was applauded as a gesture of understanding and tolerance.
The demonstrators repeated their demand for the formation of a national council for citizenship rights to tackle complaints and cases of citizenship rights violations. They also stressed their call for a civil, democratic State.
Following a final prayer for Egypt, the demonstrators left in peace.