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Mourning is difficult. And national mourning is harder still.
On Sunday, we woke up expecting the full swing of Egypt’s Palm Sunday celebrations, but any anticipation of such a day quickly dissolved as news of two church bombings seized the country.
At approximately 09:30 am, an explosion ruptured the St. George Coptic Church in Tanta, north of Cairo. Less than two hours later, a similar attack seared through the St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, bringing the total death toll to 46 with scores injured.
And immediately after, the specters of previous assaults targeting the Christian minority were resurrected – the most recent bombing occurred in the Botroseyya Cathedral last December.
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS, also known as the Islamic State in the Levant) claimed responsibility for both attacks in a message indicating its commitment to wiping out Egypt’s Christian population.
In response, the entire country mobilized. Hundreds rushed to donate blood at the now-desecrated churches, while many more took to social media to rage against the state’s inability to contain the terrorism directed against Egypt’s Copts.
The plight of Egyptian Copts, however, is not only ongoing; it has also been seething underneath the surface for decades.
Yet every time we are afforded with an opportunity to seriously address these issues, they are dismissed under the banner of wihda wataneya or ‘national unity.’
Deflection of responsibility?
This is because as of late, we have denied mourning its transformative potential. Instead, it has devolved into an avenue through which struggles for political power have been expressed, perpetuated and reinforced.
And this is clear in the constant deflection of responsibility – onto ISIS, onto the state, and even onto the majority Muslim population.
But doing so only further entrenches a country already ravaged by streaks of sectarian violence. And this is not something that suddenly surfaced with the birth of ISIS.
Religious discrimination has targeted minorities in Egypt long before Sunday’s criminal attacks, and it is precisely national disunity that has created the fertile ground necessary to breed the terrorists responsible for the bombings.
Yes, for the following week our profile pictures on social media will turn black. Yes, various government officials will vow to end religious extremism and yes, media celebrities will call for greater brotherhood between Muslims and Christians.
But none of that does anything to reconfigure a construct designed to maintain the continued subjugation of the Christian minority.
Where was this national unity when the village of El Karam in El Minya descended into violence over rumors of an affair between a Christian man and a Muslim woman?
Where was this national unity when an old Christian woman was stripped naked of her clothes and paraded through the streets by a mob of extremists? Where was this unity when the prosecution declared insufficient evidence to open an investigation into her abuse?
Where was this national unity when the Parliament passed a church construction law that severely limited the religious freedoms of Christians in Egypt?
Or, perhaps closer to home, where is it every time we hear someone call a Christian the derogatory moniker of koftes behind their backs or with every other micro-aggression that we acknowledge and acquiesce to?
The truth is that national unity was never there except as a guise to galvanize enough political capital to justify recourse to action – primarily the use of force.
A three-month state of emergency has been declared by Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi.
While it is, in fact, imperative that Egypt works to suppress the terrorist threat, the failure to reorient the structure of society to include Christians and bestow them with the rights they are owed, will inevitably create a self-reproducing cycle of violence.
The solution lies with the people of Egypt.
It is here that our ‘mourning’ should alter the socio-legal landscape that has so easily fostered such an intense and widespread anti-Christian sentiment.
Our mourning should not be stripped of its power; it must not end with the glossy facade of condolences and grievances but should begin a process to create action and change.
This is not to deny or undermine the truly genuine efforts many have made and shown in light of this tragedy, but it is to say that these demonstrations must not be allowed to wither with time.
To mourn is to accept the loss of life, to acknowledge the pain that comes with it and to let that fuel our growth. To mourn is to come to terms with our own responsibility, our own passiveness and our own silence in creating that pain.