Monday, April 08, 2013

Smoke from the Cathedral

The death toll from the most recent wave of Muslim-Coptic violence in Egypt is mercifully small, but Paul Sedra wonders if the image of smoke rising from the compound of the main Coptic cathedral in Cairo will do lasting damage to the country's sectarian relations:
The sectarian spectacle that dominated so much Egyptian television coverage – at least that of the private networks – on Sunday, was unprecedented in modern Egyptian history. Even at the lowest points of modern Coptic-Muslim relations, the Coptic Cathedral and Patriarchal headquarters have not experienced the sort of siege that was violently imposed by plainclothes assailants and their abettors in the police, as mourners commemorated the lives of four Christians lost to sectarian violence in the Qalyubiya village of Khusus a day prior.
I say “spectacle” not to minimize the human cost of the siege – at the time of writing, two individuals were said to have lost their lives and at least ninety had suffered injuries in the attack – but because, I suspect, the power of the images transmitted from the Cathedral siege may exceed even that of the images transmitted from Maspero during the military’s massacre of Copts there in October 2011. At stake was the very center of the Coptic Orthodox Church, where the relics of the Church’s founder, Saint Mark, are housed. For Copts to observe smoke rising from the Cathedral compound was thus profoundly shocking – to say nothing of the chilling sight of Copts, seeking to help protect the area, having to display their tattoo crosses to gain entrance to the compound once the siege had begun.



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