Sama’an Nazmi, a Coptic Christian from the garbage slums of Manshier Nasr, jumped up off the couch and sprinted out the door upon hearing gunfire and screams in the streets outside. Coptic youth had been staging a protest, causing enough racket that village priests urged them to stop before they attracted the attention of radical mobs who may use violence to forcefully halt the demonstration. The protestors – agitated over a church that had been burned to the ground by Islamists days earlier in a nearby village – refused to back down.
Villagers knew the protests were getting out of hand once the military arrived. Still, they could not convince their sons to come home. Instead, families gathered together, locked their doors, held hands, and prayed. When gunfire was heard, no one was surprised. In fact, many, like Sama’an, had been expecting it and were waiting to respond, knowing that help would be needed.
“Don’t go!” Sama’an’s mother shouted after him as he fled out the door. “I’m not afraid,” Sama’an replied on the run. “I need to protect my church and family.”
“We didn’t want to see him go,” Sama’an’s mother told ICC. “But he wanted to help those who were injured.”
Bullets still flying, Sama’an hurriedly searched for the injured and offered whatever assistance he could give.
Sama’an’s efforts were short lived, however. His wife, Rasha (not real name), had followed closely behind him before stopping at the top of the hill where she could see the upcoming events unfold. “I saw Sama’an helping an injured youth to his feet,” Rasha explained through a translator. “And then Sama’an dropped to the ground.”
A shrill scream pierced the village. Rasha tried to go to her husband, but her legs locked and she fell desperately to her knees. Crawling toward him and toward the battle that pressed on, villagers had to grab her to hold her back.
“I couldn’t get to him,” she lamented. “But when he fell, I knew he was dead. I knew there was nothing I could do.”
“They take our children, our money, our power. They take everything,” Sama’an’s mother continued. “What do they want from us?”
Sama’an’s family lives off less than two dollars a day which is earned by collecting and recycling Cairo’s trash. With Sama’an’s death, the family lost their only provider. Sama’an’s father is also out of the picture, having been arrested a year earlier for owning a pig, which became illegal in Cairo after the swine epidemic of 2009. It will be another four years before he is released. The women and children are now left to fend for themselves.
Sipping tea with Sama’an’s family in their home, Rasha took a framed wedding photo from the wall and handed it to me. A beautiful bride and handsome groom, in love, posed confidently for the camera. I looked at the bride and hardly recognized her. Rasha’s face, though still young, had aged quickly over the past few months by the stress and hard labor that a poor widow must bear in Egypt. How could Rasha have known her life would turn out this way?
Still gazing at the photograph, Sama’an’s five-year-old son Hany and two-year-old daughter Mariam chased after baby chicks scurrying across the living room rug. Amongst the chirps and laughing children, Rasha broke down in tears. The group I was with came to her, prayed, and offered what little comfort we could. “What will she do now?” I asked myself. “How will she raise her children on her own?”
Today, ICC continues to seek a solution to these questions. Upon our visit, ICC was able to bless Rasha and eight other families who lost loved ones in the protests on March 8 with a gift to help their immediate financial needs. Now, ICC is developing a small business for Rasha and providing the support needed to ensure that her children will attend school. Lastly, we have connected these families with a local church that will visit them monthly and continue to ensure that there spiritual and physical needs are being cared for.
Please consider partnering with ICC by praying or sending a donation for families in Mokattam. If you would like to give a gift to improve the lives of our brothers and sisters in Egypt, please make a donation to our Hand of Hope Fund for the Middle East and include a note designating your gift for “Egypt.” You may also give by check or by calling us at 1-800-ICC-5441.
To learn more about families in Mokattam who lost loved ones on March 8 or about the garbage districts of Cairo, please visit ICC’s Out of Egypt blog or sign up for our newsletter to read a full article in our September edition.