The New York Times reported on October 10, 2011 that a “demonstration by Christians angry about a recent attack on a church touched off a night of violent protests [in Cairo] against the military council.” Twenty-four people were dead and more than 200 were wounded. Witnesses said that several protesters were crushed under military vehicles and about twenty people underwent surgery for bullet wounds. Lest the protest be viewed as purely sectarian or even religious in nature, it is important to note that when “the clashes broke out, some Muslims ran into the streets to help defend the Christains against the police, while others said they had come out to help the army quell the protests in the name of stability, turning what started as a march about a church into a chaotic battle over military rule and Egypt’s future.” In fact, some people in the protest chanted, “Muslim[s] and Christians are one hand.” One protester said to a reporter, “This is not the issue of Muslim and Christian, this is the issue of the freedom that we demanded and can’t find.” To be sure, the police made use of Muslim civilians in favor of an Islamic state and armed with clubs and stones, but the conflict itself was not religious. According to the New York Times, he military council ruling Egypt “has become a subject of public ire for its failure to establish stability and for its repeated deferrals of its pledged exit from power.” Indeed, under the council’s plan at the time of the protest, the military could function “as an all-powerful chief executive for another two years or more.” The Egyptian media was openly discussing whether the military would ever follow through on its commitments to democracy.
Even as they were out protesting the state rather than leaving what is Ceasar’s to Ceasar, the Christians “said that they scuffled at least three times with Muslims who did not want them to pass.” But the violence did not escalate until the protesters reached the radio and television headquarters in the evening, when the demonstrators and security forces “began throwing rocks at each other.” The media reported that “at least three security officers had died in the attacks by Christian protesters.” For their part, the Christian protesters “insisted they were peaceful until they were attacked.” In retaliation, the security forces began driving their trucks into the protesters, crushing at least four. A Coptic priest, Rev. Ephraim Magdy, said, “It is up to the military to explain what happened, but I see it as persecution. I felt that they were monsters.”
I read the entire paragraph immediately above as pointing to the hypocrisy of the so-called Christians who took part in the protest. The same sort of convenient, partisan rationalizing as we read from Rev. Magdy had no doubt been used to justify the four Crusades. It is interesting how the other guy is a monster even though Magdy admits to having thrown stones too. Who was it who said, let him who is without sin cast the first stone, turn the other cheek, an eye for an eye and the whole world is blind, and love those who persecute you? It does not seem likely that the Copic Christians who were marching were being persecuted, so the line, love your enemy, is perhaps more apt.
Both in pulling the persecution card and in partaking in a violent tit for tat, Rev. Magdy comes off as a hypocrite rather than as a disciple of Jesus. It is sad that the priest had devoted so much of his life to something only to miss the point when it really counted. Indeed, he may have missed his calling to enter some military rather than the Church. I can imagine Jesus rebuking him, Get behind me Satan! This is what Jesus says to Peter in the Gospels when the disciple tries to prevent Jesus from suffering unjustly in Jerusalem. That the rock or foundation of Jesus’ movement is so quickly renounced as though Satan may give Christians some pause in assuming that institutional Christianity is (and has been) necessarily in line with its founder. In keeping with the Biblical theme in Mark wherein the insiders are really outsiders because they just don’t “get it,” some outsiders (e.g., strangers) do “get it” even if they are relegated as anonymous Christians at best by the proud.
In terms of protests, I would point to Gandhi rather than Magdy as evincing Jesus’ message and example. I would also point to the Muslims who had the courage to walk with their Christian brothers and sisters in Cairo. I am reminded of Gandhi telling a Hindu man whose son had been killed by a Muslim that if he really wanted to get into heaven after what he had done in the riots, he should go and adopt a child—only make sure that child is a Muslim. Gandhi understood Jesus’ dictum, Love your enemies. It is a pity that so many churlish church-goers do not. Magdy and his fellow “Christian” protesters certainly did not. They were not following Jesus, either in terms of his example or his teachings on how to enter the Kingdom of God. The Coptic marchers should never have picked up the stones, even after being hit. In fact, they should have unilaterally volunteered to become body shields for the Muslims who had joined them! That is what it means to be a Christian—it is not about metaphysics, science, history, politics, or even morality.
Jesus himself says in the faith narratives that he was sent to preach the mysteries of the Kingdom of God within, which can be realized here and now and whose spirit of humility is especially felt in taking a stand in being compassionate when it is least convenient. This is a rather specific strength that is still not typically valued in the world, and is even less often manifested in behavior. Yet valuing and instantiating that particular strength within is what ultimately defines the disciple of that particular movement that could perhaps best be described as mystical and paradoxical in nature. It is a pity it has been so misunderstood, particularly by those who act as though they cannot be wrong simply because lead it. They are like the proverbial wedding guest who shows up to the wedding feast without bothering to wear wedding attire and yet sits himself at the head table.
Generally speaking, it is perhaps all too easy for us to go with appearances and asseverations tied in with the status quo instead of stepping back and permitting some perspective to challenge convenient claims made by vested interests that may be other than what they seem.
David Kirkpatrick, “Rage at Military in Egypt Fuels Deadly Protest,” New York Times, October 10, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/10/world/middleeast/deadly-protests-over-church-attack-in-cairo.html