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The Warraq Funeral: Between Sadness and Anger

[Coptic church in Cairo, Egypt. Image originally posted to Flickr by Ana Paula Hirama] [Coptic church in Cairo, Egypt. Image originally posted to Flickr by Ana Paula Hirama]

The entrance of the church had two minarets with a yellow cross on top of each. About fifty meters away from the church was a mosque, smaller in size and with two similarly looking but taller minarets. This was the Church of Warraq, where unknown gunmen shot at a wedding killing four and leaving eighteen injured. Those killed during the attack were either elderly or children, including an eight- and a twelve-year old.

Located north of Cairo, Warraq is a neighborhood that lies right next to the Nile in Giza past Agouza and Imbaba. As I approached, it looked like a different governorate altogether. The streets grew smaller and Central Security Forces personnel stationed outside of it were not wearing the usual black uniform, but rather a khaki colored outfit that is often seen in poorer governorates.

Along the road leading up to the church were numerous government buildings. The church is located near Warraq police station, which, as I learned, was attacked and burned after 14 August and had been abandoned ever since.

A few hundred people were present in the vicinity of the church as they waited for the bodies to arrive. Some of the coffins were smaller, because they presumably carried the two dead children.

As the coffins made their way through the crowds two chants often echoed by revolutionary activists were heard. “Martyr, rest in peace and we will continue the struggle” and “We will either bring justice to them, or die like them.” I could not help but wonder who this so-called struggle would be against. A woman outside was asking God to take his vengeance against the Muslim Brotherhood.

The church was much larger than it seemed from the outside. It was crowded, boisterous and full to the brim. Not everyone made it inside. Many had to stand outside, and some were watching a live feed of the service one floor above. The atmosphere never ceased to be tense. Shouting and mourning were continuous.

One night earlier a wedding service was taking place in that same church. A family that was enjoying wedding festivities a day ago was now in mourning at a funeral. As the priest read prayers, the call to Muslim prayers could be heard coming from outside . The chants interrupted the priest several times, much like the funeral service in the Coptic Cathedral for the Khusus victims in April 2013. Some people were hugging the coffins tightly as they wept.

Finally, the priest started his sermon. There was much glorification of martyrdom throughout his speech, but toward the end he spent quite a bit of time thanking church and public officials. He thanked the Pope and the many priests who offered their condolences. He then thanked state officials, including Giza’s governor and head of the security directorate. As he expressed his gratitude to the head of the security directorate, I wondered why anyone mourning the death of these victims would thank a negligent state that has failed to provide minimal protection for this church and over fifty others across Egypt. The priest then asserted that those who targeted the wedding were the same as those who attacked the conscripts in Sinai in August 2012. How he arrived at that conclusion was a big mystery to the audience.  Perhaps religious leaders are not really men of God, but men of state.

[Excerpts from funeral proceedings at Warraq Church.]

It was not obvious throughout the service how people were feeling and whom their anger was directed at. Did they even know? Was it only against the Muslim Brotherhood whose supporters and allies continued to incite against the Church? Or were they also angry at the state, which failed them and could not provide them with protection—a state that they could not afford to oppose because it supposedly “saved” them from the rule of the Brotherhood? How would they fight to bring about retribution for the dead without relying on a state that has continuously undermined their rights?

There was a mixture of anger and sadness in a scene that was part revolutionary, part reactionary. After the funeral, people congregated outside the church for a while to demonstrate their anger.

As I was leaving a woman came up to me and said, “The area is full of weapons. Whom do I report to if there is a coffee shop selling arms?”

Having thought about it for a few moments, I concluded that it would be useless to tell the police, since they are unlikely to take any action. But it seemed that she already knew that given that she chose to direct the question at me. Who do we appeal to when we want protection in our neighborhoods? Who do we tell? We are still on our own. Egypt is on her own.

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