A Christian Death in the Western Desert

Desert Martyr 4

Egypt suffered another terrorism setback this week, as a shootout with militants in the Western Desert resulted in the death of at least 16 policemen.

That is the official, government tally. International media reported much higher figures, though the government dismissed their numbers and an alleged recording describing the chaos in the field, saying they were unsourced and reflecting unprofessional conduct.

Much speculation focused on the groups behind the attack, whether ISIS from the Sinai, Muslim Brotherhood linked militants, or a rogue army officer perhaps affiliated with al-Qaeda.

The government has launched an investigation, but it is also conducting funerals. Less well reported is this human side of the tragedy, causing Egypt to cancel even a major tourist festival in solidarity with the slain, when the sun shines directly on the face of Ramses II in Abu Simbel.

Desperate to revive the tourism industry, Egypt is more keen to maintain security commitment and morale.

Part of the task is to honor all dead. And among them was Boutros Sulimian Masoud, a Coptic Christian conscript from Ezbat Yacoub Bibawi in Minya. Military figures and Azhar sheikhs were on hand, draping his casket with an Egyptian flag.

Also honored was an army officer named Muhammad Wahid Musalhi. Bishop Makarios of Minya represented the church in both occasions.

And both figures are called ‘martyrs’, as per Egyptian practice, by both church and state.

Consider what you will theologically, but Egypt has suffered a multiplication of martyrs in recent years.

On the one hand, where the term is more familiar, Christians have been targeted by terrorists, though Muslims have also died in the carnage.

On the other, the army and police have been targeted by terrorists, irrespective of religion. Egypt is understood to be 10 percent Christian, and they die beside their brothers in the service.

The Egyptian security services are integrated, drawing all in general conscription. Copts sometimes complain they are kept out of senior positions until promotion at retirement, and that conscript deaths sometimes are under-investigated. But they are grateful for their place in the national army.

It was only in the mid-19th century that the Muhammad Ali dynasty lifted the jizia tax and enrolled Copts. Classical Islamic jurisprudence says that jizia is meant in part to protect Christians living in a Muslim country, that they need not participate in foreign jihad or defense of the nation.

But one of the most powerful proofs of citizenship is mingled blood, fighting side by side against a common enemy.

The pictures here were distributed by the Coptic Media Center and represent Egypt as she idealizes herself. One nation, three religions, one people mourning all.

It does not cover up the flaws, but it is a reminder to Muslim and Christian alike of what Egypt is meant to be.

This, too, is important to report.

Desert Martyr 2

Desert Martyr 3

Desert Martyr 1

Tahya Masr, al-baqa’ li-llah, nayyihhum.

 

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