4 September 2012
Coptic Christians grieve during the funeral for seven victims of sectarian violence at Samaan el-Kharaz Church in Cairo, Egypt, last year. Thirteen people died and 140 were wounded in clashes between Christians and Muslims initiated by anger over an arson attack on a church the week before. (photo: CNS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters)
In this morning’s “Page One,” we highlighted an essay featured in America Magazine by David Pinault, a professor of religious studies at Santa Clara University. The author described a recent visit to Egypt, his impressions of the country since the “Lotus Revolution,” and the declining number of Copts in Egypt since the onset of conflict. He described a conversation with a Cairo cab driver:
I told him the statistics: in 2011 and 2012, since the revolution’s onset, over 100,000 Copts have fled Egypt. “Well, I’m not going to leave,” Sami insisted. “Christ is testing us. I tell my friends to stay. Christ could end this suffering, this trial, at any time. How will you feel, I tell my friends, if you’re in Canada instead of Egypt when Christ returns?”
I pondered this apocalyptic thought as we skirted Tahrir Square, the scene of recurrent confrontations between demonstrators and Egypt’s military, and passed the blackened ruins of the Institute of Egypt. French scholars had founded the Institute after Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion in 1798; its archives held centuries-old maps, books and manuscripts — a priceless treasure. But in December 2011, when government forces on nearby rooftops shot at demonstrators in the street, protesters retaliated by throwing firebombs at the soldiers. Some of the projectiles fell short; the resultant fire destroyed most of the building and much of the collection. In January 2012, Sami told me, Muslim and Christian volunteers collaborated in salvaging charred volumes from the ruins.
But what lingered in my mind was the assessment published in the Arabic-language newspaper al-Ahram by the Egyptian poet and commentator Kamal ‘Arafah. He compared the destruction of Cairo’s Napoleonic Institute to the ancient burning of the Library of Alexandria and the Mongols’ obliteration of Baghdad’s learning centers in the 13th century. Labeling Egypt’s fire-bombers “Mongols of chaos,” ‘Arafah added, “I felt pain when I saw in the videos and pictures the cries of Allahu akbar (Allah is great) and La ilaha illa Allah (there is no god except Allah) coming from young men and women while the Institute of Egypt was burning — young men and women who were ignorant of the extent of the loss bleeding from the heart of Egypt.“
When I mentioned ‘Arafah’s commentary to Sami, he said he, too, found disturbing the linkage of religious sloganeering and violence. He returned to what we had been discussing earlier, Salafist persecution of the Copts: “I’m staying. I’m not leaving my country. I’m not going to do what the Salafists want me to do.” He added that in the aftermath of recent attacks on Christian churches, when he and his Coptic friends assemble for prayer, they have the feeling, “We’re ready to be martyrs. We’re ready to be with Christ, to live with Christ.” Not martyrs in any violent sense, he insisted, but in the sense of giving witness.
For more, read Ready To Be Martyrs.
Tags: Egypt Violence against Christians Africa Coptic Christians