“This time round we will not let it go, even if we all have to die”; “The Church is not the Mossad and Mina Danial is an Egyptian citizen, not a Mossad agent”; “This is not sectarian strife, but a military massacre.”
These were some of the chants that kicked off a march organised in memory of close to 40 Egyptian Copts that were killed Sunday evening while taking part in a march staged to protest the 30 September demolition of an Aswan church with all but official consent.
Dressed in black T-shirts with an imprinted photo of political activist Mina Daniel, who was killed Sunday, the organisers of the march were joined by scores of Copts and Muslims at the gates of the Coptic Cathedral in Abbassiya, the starting point of the march that is expected to reach Tahrir Square.
“We are going to Tahrir not to Maspero (the venue of the state TV building where the "Black Sunday" bloodshed took place) because we are going there as Egyptians, Copts and Muslims, even if we are essentially lamenting Coptic blood that was shed at the hands of the armed forced that we had hoped would be protecting us,” said Kyrolos, one of the organisers of the march.
The message of the march, according to Kyrolos and other Christians and Muslims who were vocally chanting against the Sunday carnage, is simple: What happened is inexcusable by all accounts and the attempt of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to convince public opinion that it was the result of unidentified persons is unacceptable.
“I cannot accept the explanation that was offered suggesting that the armoured vehicle that was videoed while killing demonstrators was run by a passer-by while the army in charge of the vehicle had left it; it is not like any passer-by knows how to operate this vehicle; this is silly,” said Arafa, a Muslim participant in the Friday march.
For Kyrolos as for Arafa, SCAF made a mistake when it did not apologise for the carnage. “And if that was not a matter of mismanagement on their side then it was an attempt on the side of SCAF to find a pretext to prolong the transitional phase,” said Kyrolos who spoke to Ahram Online as the march was gaining momentum.
Coptic anger over the excuses offered by SCAF for the Sunday massacre runs deep. "I would have rather if they did not say anything rather than for them to tell us that it was the mistake of the Coptic demonstrators,” said Abnob who spoke to Ahram Online Tuesday evening, hours after a SCAF press conference denied any involvement on the part of military officers in charge of protecting the state TV building in the killing of Coptic demonstrators, blaming demonstrators and "some infiltrators" for the killing of demonstrators who died by gunshot or were crushed by armoured military vehicles.
Speaking as he exited the Coptic Cathedral in Abbassiya, Abnob said that the press conference of SCAF was the last straw. “We have been coming under so much attack as Copts during the past few months, since the attack on the church of Omraniya, and the state has not acted to protect us but is rather blaming us; this is too much and we cannot keep pretending that nothing is happening.”
In the autumn of 2010, angry Copts demonstrated before the Giza governorate to protest the demolition of a church in Omraniya, a Giza district, with the excuse of an alleged violation of a crippling code governing the construction of churches. At the time, police forces attacked demonstrators and left three dead.
Not long after the 25 January Revolution, attacks on churches, which had been happening every few years during the last two decades of the rule of ousted president Hosni Mubarak, gained higher frequency and continued to be mostly overlooked by the state. The demolition of the Aswan church was even condoned by the governor of Aswan, who was quoted as saying that “Muslims rectified a mistake by Copts” for having failed to meet all due construction requirements.
The state has been procrastinating for years to amend a law that imposes draconian restrictions on the construction, and refurbishing, of churches. “This is not just about churches; it is about everything: Christians are subject to endless forms of discrimination,” argued Magdi who also spoke while exiting the Coptic Cathedral Tuesday evening.
Joined by a group of worshipers, Magdi started to list some of the forms of discrimination: Copts are denied top positions; Copts are not allowed to be present in national security departments of the state; Copts are not allowed to work in key jobs at airports, with few exceptions; and Copts are denied top media jobs.
“In fact, state TV was inciting Muslims against Copts on Sunday evening and we ran into some Muslim citizens who were trying to attack Coptic demonstrators on Sunday because they heard on TV that the Egyptian army was under attack by the Copts,” said Emad as he exited the Coptic Hospital where some of the injured of Black Sunday were being treated Tuesday evening.
“As Christians we no longer have a place! As Christians we are subject to endless humiliation! Why do you do this to us?” shouted Engy, an angry Coptic lady at the entrance of the Coptic Hospital Tuesday evening. Engy was begging the on-duty nurse and doctor to admit a relative who she said was “crushed by a car driven by Salafis in Ain Shams,” one of the less economically privileged districts of Cairo.
“He had converted to Islam and when he wanted to convert back after what happened on Sunday they just crushed him with a car,” Engy told Ahram Online who could not verify the story from eyewitnesses.
The issue of convert Copts who wish to abandon Islam and return to Christianity is one of the most controversial issues in Egypt where laws allowed Christians to convert to Islam but not the other way round, even if the converts were originally Christians, under the pretext that this goes against Sharia (Islamic law).
Fears of a much more rigid interpretation of Sharia and the impact thereof on the lives of Christian or secular Muslims is increasing in the run up to parliamentary elections where Islamic political forces are expected to get a considerable number of seats — most polls suggest 25 to 30 per cent.
The call for guarantees to keep Egypt a civil state, “Not Islamic and not military,” were clear among the key chants of the early hours of Friday's demonstration. The same is expected to be the key chant of other demonstrations planned through Sunday in memory of the victims of the Maspero massacre of 9 October.