The tear gas was blinding that night in Maspero. It burns the eyes and slows the ability to react. People ran, aimlessly and horrified, but they had nowhere to go. Armored military vehicles veered uncontrollably into crowded streets. Gunfire crackled from overpasses and showered the roadways. And, peaceful protestors dropped to the ground – swept and crushed beneath the tires of tanks or by a bullet to the head or chest.
“The area turned to darkness. All of a sudden there was shooting and people were running,” said Mary Ibrahim Daniel, a Christian activist who had marched with thousands of other Egyptians from Shubra to Maspero in Cairo on October 9, 2011. “The guy next to me fell from a bullet to the neck. My sister and I were almost hit by a tank. People were screaming. We could hardly see because of the tear gas. The street was covered with blood. Many were dying, but we couldn’t help them or else we would die too.”
Near Mary, but not within sight, stood her brother, Mina. He was a known activist in Egypt and attended many demonstrations, but he had never witnessed anything like this before. However, Mina would see little of the violence that unfolded that night—he was among the first killed.
“After I got shot and went to the hospital I saw Mina on the floor at the morgue,” Wagih Yacoub, a Coptic human rights activist, told ICC. “I was just with him a few hours ago, laughing and talking. And then I just saw him lying there… I don’t know what to say. He was my friend.”
Mina was shot and instantly killed by a bullet to the chest, according to a medical examination. He was only one of 26 Christians killed that evening which protestors dubbed “Bloody Sunday.” The initially peaceful demonstration denouncing the destruction of a church by a Muslim mob a week earlier was met by the worst violence in Egypt since President Mubarak’s ouster from power in February 2011.
One year later, the victims’ families are still waiting for justice. “Only three soldiers, who have been charged with ‘involuntary manslaughter’ and sentenced to just two and three years in jail, have been held responsible for the events,” Ahram Online reported. As is often the case in Egypt, violence targeting Christians usually goes unpunished.
“They were among my best friends and life is difficult without them,” Hani, a Christian engineering student, told Gulf News. “Deepening my grief is that the actual killers have not been punished for brutally attacking peaceful demonstrators.”
Many Muslims in Egypt and throughout the Middle East will always remember 2011 as the year that long-standing dictators were deposed and greater political rights and free speech were realized. For Christians, however, the year fondly labeled as the ‘Arab Spring’ has brought only hardship. Religious freedom was far from the minds of most revolutionaries and Christians now find they are the targets of widespread and merciless violence.
In all, more than 80 Christians were killed in 2011 as a result of religious-based violence in Egypt which, according to reports, has prompted more than a hundred thousand Christians to seek immigration to western countries. Christians fear that persecution will only increase as well-organized Islamist movements capitalize on newly-gained political freedoms.
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.”