“The martyrs of the Two Saints Church are like other martyrs who have been dying since then; they all died because we have been living in a country where citizens do not count and what we have to do now is to make sure that citizens count,” said Mahinour, a 25-year old lawyer and political activist as she stood before the Two Saints Church in anticipation of the early hours of 2012.
Having been part of the solidarity movement with the Two Saints Church after a fatal attack had killed 20 worshipers and left over 125 gravely wounded as they were exiting the New Year Eve’s prayers in the same church last year, Mahinour is no longer seeing the attack on the church last year as just an attack on Copts, although that remains to be part of the truth, but more of an attempt to stir unrest in society to sustain the longevity of a regime that she said “the 25 January Revolution has started to demolish, bit by bit”.
For Mahinour, Ranwa, Isis and Magda, the four women political activists of Alexandria who were all present before the Two Saints Church, the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak had one way or the other exercised “deliberate divisions within society,” according to Ranwa, the 24-year Fine Arts graduate.
For these four women, two of whom are Copts and two Muslims, the story of sectarian strife in Egypt is obviously not strictly the work of direct incitement. It is also the outcome of poor and discriminatory education, negative media messages and above all the sheer negative sentiments of anger that are produced by poverty and frustration.
“The hand that killed the martyrs of the [Two Saints] Church is the same hand that had earlier killed Khaled Said and later killed Sayed Belal,” argued Isis, the 26-year-old social worker.
It was in Alexandria that the summer 2010 killing of Khaled Said, a young man murdered brutally by police forces for daring to challenge them, that started the fist calls for the January 25th Revolution.
The killing of the Islamist activist Sayed Belal, also in Alexandria, during investigations for alleged involvement in the Two Saints Church bombing is also perceived by many activists, including these four women of Alexandria, as part of a strategy by the state to incite antagonism between Christians and Muslims.
And as Magda noted, justice has not been properly realised, or realised at all, in relation to the perpetrators for the killing of Khaled Said, the martyrs of the Two Saints Church, Sayed Belal and the martyrs of the 18 days of the January 25th Revolution and subsequent attacks against demonstrators whether Copts, on 9 October, or protesters in November and early December.
According to Ranwa, this goes to show that “simply we are still living under the same rule – one way or the other.” She added, “The rule of the military has to come to an end if we really want to see justice done to those who killed all these martyrs and if we really want to live in a country where equal citizenship would apply”.
Like other young men and women who joined them in paying tribute to the martyrs of the Two Saints Church, a year later after the carnage, and who also joined the celebration of the beginning of a New Year, Mahinour, Ranwa, Isis and Magda were focused on garnering support for a firm public demand to get the ruling military council (SCAF) to hand over power to a civilian authority – preferably an elected president.
The four women boycotted the parliamentary elections, that are ongoing in one third of Egypt’s governorates. They said that despite their disapproval of the political context in which the elections have been conducted, they would still consent to a transition of power to the speaker of parliament.
And while none of the four women had any affinity, as they explicitly said, to the political Islamist forces that have been winning overwhelming electoral victories, especially in the once Cosmopolitan Alexandria, they still preferred to have an Islamist speaker of parliament in power rather than the SCAF.
“With civilians, even those who enforce the words of God in their speech you could always argue, with the military, as we have seen for over almost a year now, there is no way to argue,” said Isis to the nodding of her three friends who later joined a bigger group of Christian and Muslim women and men who carried candles in memory of the martyrs of the Two Saints Church.