“Although 2011 started tragically, I feel it will be a year of eagerly anticipated change, where Egyptians will stand against sectarianism and unite as one,” Father Rafaeil Sarwat of the Mar-Mina church told Ahram Online. The Coptic priest was commenting on the now widespread call by Muslim intellectuals and activists upon Egyptian Muslims at large to flock to Coptic churches across the country to attend Coptic Christmas Eve mass, to show solidarity with the nation's Coptic minority, but also to serve as "human shields" against possible attacks by Islamist militants.
Mohamed Abdel Moniem El-Sawy, founder of El-Sawy Culture Wheel was among the promiment Muslim cultural figures who first floated the bold initiative.
“This is it. It is time to change and unite,” asserted journalist Ekram Youssef, another notable sponsor of the intiative, in a telephone interview with Ahram Online. She added that although it is the government’s responsibility to act and find solutions to bring an end to such violations, "it is time for Egyptian citizens to act to revive the true meaning of national unity."
Following last year's Coptic Christmas Eve attack on congregants as they left their church in the Upper Egyptian city of Naga Hamady, Youssef created the crescent and cross logo with the slogan “A nation for all” - that was adopted during the past couple of days by many of Egypt’s 4 million Facebook users as their profile picture.
Mariam Yassin, a 24 year old video editor, will take Thursday off to travel to Alexandria to attend the mass at the Two Saints Church. “I am not going as a representative of any religion. I am supporting all those who died as a result of ignorance.”
Yassin’s friend, Mariam Fekry, was killed along with her mother, sister and aunt in the Two Saints Church attack
“I feel great sympathy for her family’s loss, yet I don’t feel that as a Muslim I should apologize on the behalf of murderers.” Yassin added.
On the other hand, Fatima Mostafa, a 40 year old house wife, will join Copts tomorrow to show that Muslims feel their sorrow. “I want to show the world that Islam is a religion of peace and that such attacks are nothing more than a result of poverty, ignorance and oppression.”
While the reasons they cite for doing so may vary, many Egyptian Muslims are rallying around the idea of acting to protect their fellow citizens.
“I know it might not be safe, yet it’s either we live together, or we die together, we are all Egyptians,” Cherine Mohamed, a 50 year old house wife said.
For Youssef, Egyptians should attend regardless of their faith as “we all have Christians as part of our family. I am a Muslim but I’m sure my great grandfather was a Christian.”
An engineer who wanted to remain anonymous stated that he was looking forward to tomorrow: “I was a Christian and I’m a Muslim now, I want my kids to go to church to realize that both religions are similar; we have one God, and both holy books stress peace and the welfare of the society at large.”
The goodwill has been well received by the Coptic Church, and Coptic priests have been expressing their pleasure that Muslims intend to join them at tomorrow’s mass. Some churches have already put up banners welcoming Muslims to their celebration of the birth of Jesus.
Some fear the initiative will be thwarted, however. “I’m filled with happiness, I feel it will become a national celebration, yet I fear that police won’t allow Muslims to attend the mass,” Ashraf Rasmy, a Coptic volunteer worker said.
Nevertheless, Muslims and Copts are looking forward to tomorrow evening with all that it might bring. Amani Ramsis, a volunteer worker, remains defiant: “It is an anticipated celebration for all Egyptians, whether we live or die, we will never stop celebrating the birth of Jesus, and no one can bury our joy and unity.”