Egypt’s Copts chant sectarian slogans, reassert Christian pride

“With our soul and blood, we will defend our cross," “The cross and the bible are everything,” “Jesus is Allah,” and “Jesus is the winner” counted among common slogans Copts sought to reassert pride in their Christian identities during Coptic demonstrations in the wake of New Year's church bomb that killed 23.

On Saturday morning, while dead bodies were collected from the site of the attacks, Copts chanted “Kyrie Eleison,” Greek for “lord, have mercy.” The slogan was heard again during the burial ceremony in St. Mina Monastery. Sorrow, bitterness and anger mixed at a scene.

Yet, the words chanted by Alexandria’s Copts quickly merged with more politically pronounced slogans. According to Michel Shawky, a 29-year-old accountant, the slogans index the “suppression from which we suffer as well as the unfair treatment we face."

"See what happens with perpetrators of attacks against Copts? They’re either unidentifiable or ‘mentally challenged.’ Even if they’re identified, like in the Nagaa Hammadi case, there’s no verdict one year later," added Shawky.

Shawky, however, noted the relatively new use of such slogans in Alexandria; "I chanted them for the first time in the Cathedral of Abbasiya when we staged a demonstration asking for the release of Wafaa Constantine."

Constantine is the wife of a Coptic priest who is rumored to have converted to Islam but was handed over to the control of her family.

She, in addition to Camellia Shehata, a wife of Coptic priest and alleged convert to Islam, were mentioned in the November statement by al-Qaeda in Iraq in which the terrorist group threatened to attack the Coptic church.

Politically piercing slogans have also been on the rise. "Oh Mubarak, the Copt’s heart burns in fire," and “Oh Mubarak, the Copt’s blood is not cheap," chanted Alexandria’s Copts during protests that have taken place since the Alexandria church attach on New Year’s Eve.

Coptic demonstrators criticized Alexandria’s political leadership, in particular the city’s governor Adel Labib.

“Get out Labib,” shouted demonstrators on Saturday’s burial ceremony at the Monastery of Mar Mina. Angry protesters attempted to prevent him from attending the funeral by blocking Labib’s motorcade.

"I don't know why they said that. Maybe angry people saw Labib as a symbol for the regime so they attacked him," said Nader Murkos, a counselor of Pope Shenouda III and member of the Alexandria Millet Council.

Pope Shenouda is still revered, as manifested by the chants. "We’re no longer afraid, even if they tie us with ropes, as long as [Shenouda] is our protector, we’ll remain strong," chanted Copts in front of the Church of St. Mark and St. Peter, the site of Saturday’s bombing.

Few Coptic pleas for Western support were heard. “Where America is, so is terrorism,” was another slogan heard at the site.

In adjacent protests, staged by Muslims who reject terrorist attacks on their Christian brethren, the prevalent slogan was “the crescent will live on next to the cross.” Eslam Gaber, a young Muslim man who owns a computer coffee shop, stressed to Al-Masry Al-Youm that the slogan serves the cause of unity between Egyptians regardless of their religion. He said that before attending the demonstration, he donated blood for the attack's victims.

But some Copts remain skeptical Muslim intentions. A Coptic man told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the security aparatus impelled Muslim protesters to stage the demonstrations in order to silence Christian voices.

"The security hires people to chant ‘the crescent will live on next to the cross.’ They even want to silence a small protest by Copts deeply sad for losing their relatives and families," said Dawoud Said, a retired Coptic state employee.

Saeed said that Copts remain unmoved by such slogans. The slogan, according to Saeed, will not give Copts their rights.

For Nabil Abdel Fattah of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, the slogans strengthen the Coptic cause. “Copts are angry because of discrimination against them and deprivation from political representation.”

But Abdel Fattah does not think politicized slogans are indicative of Copts shying away from their leadership’s traditional absence from politics. “The slogans emphasize the particularity of the Coptic condition, where they claim that they are unified under the leadership of Pope Shenouda,” he said.

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