A Courageous Christian Woman Tells of Her Fiancé’s Death on Egypt’s ‘Bloody Sunday’
After a long march from Shubra, Viviane Magdi and her fiancé Michael Mosad finally reached their destination at the State TV building in Maspero near Tahrir Square in Cairo where a mass crowd of demonstrators – both Christian and Muslim – had gathered.
Upon arrival, however, the protest that Michael and Viviane had joined took an unexpected turn. Above the chants for freedom and an end to military rule, the couple could hear screams and the crackle of gun fire rising from among the demonstrators into the evening air.
Although nervous about the apparent violence that had broken out in what started as a peaceful demonstration, Michael refused to return home. “There are people who fell; we have to stand with them,” Viviane remembers Michael saying.
Viviane Magdi with her fiancé Michael Mosad
A moment later, a military vehicle veered into the crowded street at a speed fast enough to bring imminent danger to anyone standing in its path. The truck swiveled on and off the sidewalk, reversed, and went forward again. Demonstrators scrambled and tripped over one another, uncertain where the vehicle would turn next.
“He held my hand and said, ‘Don’t let me go, stay with me, don’t be scared.’ Then suddenly, I felt myself pushed away,” Viviane recalled.
Looking behind her, she saw Michael swept under the truck and crushed beneath its tires. His skull was fractured and his legs were left dangling visibly from his body as the truck sped off. Soldiers following swiftly behind the vehicle began beating Michael’s unconscious body. One soldier turned on Viviane, who was begging them to stop hitting her fiancé.
“A soldier with a red cap came, shouting, cursing and hitting me with a stick then tried to beat him up. I threw my body on him (her fiancé)… and the soldier said to me: ‘You infidel, why are you here?’” The Associated Press reported Viviane as saying.
Finally, a lone soldier intervened, loaded Michael’s lifeless body on a truck, and drove him and Viviane to a Coptic hospital. Laid beside three other corpses on the hospital floor, Viviane held her fiancé’s hand and cried out in despair, “I will not leave you!”
A photo taken of her clasping Michael’s hand and the testimony she would later give to the Egyptian press circulated throughout the country and Viviane soon emerged as the unforgettable face of the October 9 massacre.
“I feel I am still with [Michael],” Viviane explained while reflecting on his death. “I’m glad I’m alive because I’m able to do him justice… There must be a reason I’m still alive… Michael’s blood is still on my hand. We must do him justice by creating a better Egypt.”
Michael was one of 26 Christians killed on the evening protestors quickly dubbed, ‘Bloody Sunday.’ An initially peaceful demonstration demanding justice for the destruction of a church by an Islamist mob in Aswan a week earlier was met by the worst violence Egyptians have seen since President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in February.
As Michael and Viviane were marching with fellow countrymen, state-run television broadcasts were simultaneously calling on “honest Egyptians to defend the soldiers” against “armed Copts.” While radical Islamists responded by descending on the scene with sticks, firebombs and guns, many Muslims saw through the façade, understanding that it was the military, not Christians, who were responsible.
“Muslims get what is happening,” Nada el-Shazly, a Muslim who heard the broadcast and knew fellow Muslims who had joined the Christian demonstration, told The New York Times. “[The military was] trying to start a civil war.”
“I am embarrassed that I work in TV,” Dina Rassmi, an Egyptian reporter, wrote on her Facebook page. “The Egyptian television is calling for a civil war between Christians and Muslims. The Egyptian television proved that it is a slave to whoever is the master.”
Meanwhile, according to The New York Times, hundreds of armed Islamists chanted in the streets, “The people want to bring down the Christians.” They continued into the evening, shouting, “Islamic, Islamic.”
Many Christians believed the violence was purely religious based. “The government and military are killing Christians. It’s that simple,” said Coptic activist Wagih Yacoub, who was shot with rubber bullets during the protest and, like Viviane, had a friend who was run over and killed by a military vehicle. “It was a peaceful march, so why did they shoot real bullets on a peaceful people? We were going there just for two or three hours then we were going to leave. We want to worship in peace, that’s all we want.”
As Egypt’s elections draw near, uncertainty and fear among Christians increases. Islamist-based parties, like the Muslim Brotherhood, are expected to win a majority seat in the Egyptian parliament which will grant them greater authority to significantly alter the constitution and impose Sharia (Islamic law).
Some church leaders, however, refuse to lose hope. “We are passing through a dark tunnel of violence, feeling grief of death and injustice…” Bishop Thomas of the Coptic Church told World Magazine from Cairo. “Trying to bring forgiveness and justice together is a big struggle, but we are committed to the love that never fails. We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed.”