Ready To Be Martyrs
My sharpest memory from Cairo is what my driver said: al-Masih biygarribna, “Christ is testing us.” I’d hired Sami to drive me around the city. As soon as I saw on his wrist thewashma, a faded tattoo in the shape of a cross, I knew he was a Copt, a member of Egypt’s Christian minority, a community that predates the Muslim presence by centuries.
Since the early 1980s I had been to Egypt many times as a student of Arabic, as a researcher and as a tour guide on Nile cruise-boats. But this visit in 2012 was my first time back since the onset of the Arab Spring and Egypt’s “Lotus Revolution.”
As we drove, Sami told me about the persecution Copts endure at the hands of Egyptian Salafists. Salafists are Muslims who want an Islamist government in which the harshest interpretations of Islamic law (shariah) are privileged at the expense of both non-Muslims and progressive-minded Muslims. “Things had been less worse for us under Mubarak,” Sami said. Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s authoritarian ruler until his ouster in the revolution, had suppressed Islamist radicals. But now, said Sami, the Salafists feel bold enough to burn churches, incite anti-Coptic riots and call openly for the expulsion of Christians.
I told him the statistics: in 2011 and 2012, since the revolution’s onset, over 100,000 Copts have fled Egypt. “Well, I’m not going to leave,” Sami insisted. “Christ is testing us. I tell my friends to stay. Christ could end this suffering, this trial, at any time. How will you feel, I tell my friends, if you’re in Canada instead of Egypt when Christ returns?” (Read more here.)