When promises ring hollow

Published on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Dina Ezzat, October 20, 2011.

Almost two weeks after the killing of around 25 Copts during an anti- discrimination demonstration in front of the headquarters of state TV on 9 October confusion continues to surround the carnage. There is no clear plan to punish the killers, who remain unidentified, and no guarantees that root cause of the problem is being addressed.  

Immediately following the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ (SCAF) public denial during a press conference on 12 October of any culpability on the part of soldiers or military police in the killing of demonstrators protesting against the illegal demolition of churches, the Coptic Church questioned the council’s version of events. Speaking hours after the press conference, Pope Shenouda denied that military police had been forced to defend themselves after demonstrators shot at them. “The demonstrators were not armed,” he stated.

The position of the Church has received support from across civil society, with videos emerging that purport to reveal the details of bloody Sunday. Among those providing filmed footage that appears to show that demonstrators did not shoot at the military was presidential runner Selim El-Awwa. The Islamist presidential hopeful said that videos he has seen clearly show the march was peaceful and its participants unarmed. He added that he had forwarded copies of the footage to the military prosecutor who is now in charge of the investigation. The fact that the investigation is now being dealt with by the military authorities has heightened fears that the results will be a whitewash of military involvement … //

… For many Copts who spoke to the Weekly the issue is not about building or not building churches but about perceptions of Copts and their position in society.

“As a Copt I feel rejected. I am not saying that every Muslim I meet is unkind to me, no, some are very kind, but I am talking in general, about the way I am treated by the grocer, the teachers at my sons’ school, some of the neighbours, and so on,” says Christine, a resident of Eizbat Al-Nakhl, an east Cairo rural-urban zone.

“When your neighbours tell their children not to play with your children because they are Christians, when the teacher is always rough with your son at school and when you feel hostility in the looks of people in the bus or the underground when they see the cross on your wrist then you know you are un- wanted,” says Viviane, a resident of Shubra.

The many statements made by officials and intellectuals in support of national unity and Coptic-Muslim solidarity since the bloodbath of 9 October have failed to dispel the sentiments of Christine, Viviane and others who feel that they have turned from second class citizens to unwanted ones.

“This is not something that you can fix by allowing the construction of a few more churches or by saying there is a law that prohibits discrimination. This is something that will only be fixed when anti-Coptic incitement is stopped, in mosques where radical preachers brainwash worshipers, on the TV, in police stations and in schools. And I don’t see this happening,” says Naguib, a Coptic resident of Heliopolis. (full text).

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