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Good David Ignatius Column on the Copts

Paul Marshall

A nice piece in the Washington Post on Egypt’s Copts by David Ignatius. This was not an op-ed or even by a reporter, but by a regular columnist. In “Cairo’s Christians worry about Egypt’s next chapter,” he interviews Christians in “Garbage City” about their hopes and, mainly, their fears for the future of Egypt. He chronicles, correctly, that most fear that their future will be worse than their difficult past.

He also movingly recounts their current situation: tens of thousands of people, the Zabaleen, living amongst the garbage they collect, and eking out a living by sorting through it and selling what they can. NRO readers may remember a piece I did on Garbage City earlier this year.

A couple of things could be added to Ignatius’s profile. He mentions that the garbage is fed to pigs, but there are now few pigs left in Egypt. In 2009, the government killed nearly all the pigs in what it claimed was a swine-flu precaution. Egypt was the only country to have engaged in such a killing — since pigs have little to do with swine flu (the A[H1N1] flu strain). Nearly all the pigs were owned by Copts, many in Garbage City. Hundreds of Copts in the area clashed with police taking the animals to slaughter: Many Christians, already literally dirt poor, lost their livelihoods.

Garbage City, more formally known as Mokatam, was also one of the several sites of massacres of Copts this year. On March 8, Copts were demonstrating after the burning down of a church, and some of their youths threw stones. That night, in a pogrom, mobs went through the area, killing ten Christians and one Muslim resident.

The Zabaleen of Mokatam face many new challenges, but their tradition tells that the Fatimid Caliph Al-Muizz Li-Deenillah, referring to the Bible on how if they had enough faith they could move mountains, demanded that the Copts move Mokatam mountain in three days or else convert to Islam, die, or leave. The community was in a panic, but Saint Simon, a poor leatherworker, thought that this was no problem, and he led their prayers, and the mountain moved. In commemoration of this miracle, the Coptic Orthodox Church observes three extra days of fasting before Advent, and the story is portrayed in many Coptic churches, including this one in Mokatam.

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