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A Tale of Two Weddings

Why protesting a drive-by shooting is complicated for Egypt's Christians.
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The wedding party stood outside the church, eagerly awaiting the ceremonious arrival of the bride. Instead, drive-by shooters killed four, including two children and the groom's mother, and injured 18.

Beyond its poignancy, the attack in Cairo's industrial neighborhood of Warraq was significant for being one of the first to target Egypt's Christians specifically, versus the now-common attacks on their church buildings.

"Since the revolution, this is the first instance Coptic people were targeted randomly in a church, with weapons," said Mina Magdy, general coordinator for the Maspero Youth Union, a mostly Coptic revolutionary group formed in response to church burnings in 2011 after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak.

Since then, sectarian incidents have escalated, most severely in the period following the violent dispersal of pro-Morsi sit-ins after the military responded to massive demonstrations to remove the Islamist president from power. Human Rights Watch documented 42 attacks on churches and numerous assaults on shops and homes.

Political and religious figures of all stripes condemned the attack, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Additionally, they laid blame on the government and police for failing to protect the church, and called for solidarity and continued protests against the military "coup."

A wedding should not prompt political considerations. But the thought of solidarity is politically complicating for Copts.

"We called for a demonstration against the government," said Magdy, "but many pro-Brotherhood sites on social media interpreted this as our protest against the so-called coup, saying Christians also are against it.

"So we told people not to come, and held only a symbolic demonstration instead."

The complicating factor for many Copts is that they support the current government and its military backing for overthrowing Morsi and the Brotherhood behind him. Any protests, such as of the wedding deaths, can been seen as aiding their opponent.

"We should push the government to give us our rights," said Michael Nabil, a Coptic accountant. "But we should have protested earlier because the attacked churches have not been rebuilt, despite promises.

"Most Copts are accepting the rule of the military so as to avoid the rule of the Brotherhood."

Many Copts, therefore, carry on with life in the midst of their political troubles. Mina and Justina from Minya, 170 miles south of Cairo, conducted their wedding in a burnt out Church of St. Tadros.

Even though the building was unfit for use and in danger of collapsing, the bride and groom insisted on having their ceremony inside their childhood church. Family and friends rallied to decorate the building for the wedding, which 60 people attended. (Watch the video at 4:14.)

"From childhood, this was our church," they explained. "This is where we grew up. Now we are happy."

From arson to wedding, from wedding to funeral, many Copts are having difficulty expressing the same sentiment.

January/February
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