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Remembering Egypt's Maspero Massacre Through Its Most Prominent Martyr

I never met Mina Daniel, but today many in Egypt consider him a hero and a martyr. Recently, I met his sister.

Two years ago this week, the 20-year-old Daniel was gunned down during a peaceful Coptic protest outside the Maspero state TV headquarters in downtown Cairo on October 9, 2011. More than 25 others died and scores were injured by military vehicles swerving through the crowded demonstration, or by local thugs who attacked the scattering remnants.

To this date, only a few low-level officers have been handed sentences, ranging from two to three years in prison.

Commemorating the massacre, Copts gathered in the Cave Church of Muqattam in the mountains outside Cairo, a scene of many interdenominational prayer services. Last year, on the first anniversary, thousands of Muslims and Christians marched together to Maspero from Shubra, a northern Cairo district with a high percentage of Coptic residents.

The religious unity of both events was just as Daniel would have wanted it.

"Mina didn't care if you were a Mina [a typical Coptic name] or a Muhammad," his sister Marry told me. "He dealt with everyone as created in the image of God."

I met Marry by coincidence in the simple, non-air-conditioned Shubra office of Hani Gaziri, one of the few Copts involved in anti-Mubarak activism long before the revolution. His broad-based vision of reform helped shape Daniel's revolutionary perspective.

"Mina said [our] Coptic issues will not be solved except in the context of general societal issues," said Marry. "If we [Copts] are wrapped in ourselves, nothing will get done; so we have to go to the street for the sake of all."

Daniel's focus was on helping the poor, who as Muslims and Christians suffered together. "Mina worked for the issues of humanity," she said. "Helping the simple, the poor, and the oppressed without reference to his religion or anything else."

Yet religion for Daniel was a vital personal reference.

"The things that concerned Mina are those which concerned Jesus while on earth," said Marry. "Mina searched for freedom; the Messiah came in order to free us. Mina worked for the oppressed; the Messiah came for the sake of the oppressed. The Messiah spoke the truth; Mina always searched for and spoke the truth.

"This is true Christianity, lived on the ground in reality and not just words and sermons. Mina practiced Christianity in his life."

Daniel was widely celebrated by those in the revolutionary community, who were drawn to him by his infectious charisma and boundless energy.

"He was a special person—loved by all, giving kisses, always laughing and smiling," said Marry. "He knew the whole square and they knew him."

His demeanor broke down walls with everyone, even ultraconservative Salafi Muslims.

"Many people, for the first time, began to love Christians because of Mina," she said. "Salafis said, 'We don't know Christians and we don't love them; but because of Mina, our opinion of Christianity has changed.'"

Today, Marry is the official spokesman of the Mina Daniel Movement, founded by 21 of his closest friends. Most of them are Muslims. They seek to honor his memory by continuing to strive for the goals of the revolution.

"We refuse for any one entity to rule the state, and especially a religious entity. Whether they are the Muslim Brotherhood or anyone else doesn't concern us," she said. "We rejected Mubarak because of his oppression, and he had nothing to do with religion. It is oppression we reject, from wherever it comes from."

This lack of sectarianism characterized Daniel. Committed to Coptic demands, he was never fully comfortable with Coptic-only activism. He died at Maspero, but his heart was in Tahrir Square. Many Copts wish to solve their problems by highlighting their particular sufferings. Daniel wished to achieve the same goal, but by uniting with all to achieve freedom for all.

"If the revolution succeeds," said his sister, "the issues of all will be solved and we will live together in citizenship."

Daniel dreamed of nothing more.

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