Maspero – Two Years After

The commemorations of the second anniversary of Maspero will likely be few and muted. The change in political atmosphere in Egypt is but one factor. The events of October 9 2011, shocking when fresh and sad to recall on the first anniversary, have been overtaken by new horrors. For the Copts, the April 7 attack on the Papal seat and the burning of some 40 Churches and other properties on August 14 seem to portend different and more ominous dangers. Let us not also forget those who died since the July 3 removal of President Morsi.  Regardless of what we make of their motives and methods, we can’t deny their humanity or their suffering. Death unites every one; the innocent and the guilty, the foolish and the cunning as well as those who died to uplift and those who died to oppress. I wrote two years ago that the saddest aspect of these events was not that the Army killed Copts, but that it killed its own citizens. The title of the post “Canaries in the Mine” held less prescience than foreboding. The leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, then recently freed from persecution, failed to stand up for justice and in that failure hardened many hearts, most critically their own. There is a lesson to be heeded; that we can only honor those who died in Maspero by extending the same condolences to those who died at Rab’a, and many other places, whether their cause was honorable or oppressive, and whether their methods were peaceful or violent.

Two pillars of the Orthodox faith are the knowledge of sin and the hope for salvation. One need not be a Christian or even a believer to see the wisdom in embracing these values. The first serves as a bracing antidote to certainty and hubris, forcing us to consider our actions, the burdens of our history, as well as our biases and fears. The second prods us to find a path illuminated by universal values that couple mercy with justice and empathy with reason. Tales of salvation often feature the removal of blindness and lifting of despair, denoting that its pillars include understanding and hope. Salvation in Egypt will begin by understanding the futility of death. The Maspero marchers meant to protest the burning of a Church, but since then dozens more have been torched. Those who camped and died at Rab’a wanted the return of Morsi, a goal more elusive today. In revolutionary Egypt death is offered in place of a plan. Hope is nurtured by plans and positive leadership, both absent. What remains for the average man is to simply reject death, its promoters and those who see it as a political tactic. While longing for a plan, the average man could at least reject false prophets.

It would be foolish to predict that Egypt will quickly pull back from the current course of violence. But if it does it will be because the majority of people will have decided to reject death.  Short of a wholesale rejection of violence as a tool Egypt will continue to accumulate deadly anniversaries faster than it can commemorate them.

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