Neighbors & Enemies
“Who is my neighbor?” This was the question that drove Jesus to narrate the parable of the Good Samaritan to his disciples and followers. In the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, the story goes that a man from Samaria was travelling, when he stumbled upon another traveller from Judea who was earlier beaten, robbed, stripped of his clothes. Based on a historical enmity between Judea and Samaria, the Samaritan was not expected to offer any help to a “stranger” on the road. He was expected to be blind to the suffering he witnessed with his eyes, and to be deaf to the moans he heard with his ears.
In the same parable, Jesus mentioned two people who had already passed by the “half dead” person. They were from the clerical authority of Israel, a priest and a Levite, who belonged to the territory of Judea as well. However, unlike the Samaritan, the latter did not care about their “neighbour.” It was the “enemy” who put “the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.” Moreover, “the next day he [the Samaritan] took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper” .
The imagined relationship, which formed between the Samaritan and the Judean, that is, between two enemies in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, is the core of this essay. Likewise, I try to imagine the fictive presence of Coptic Christians at a place where their enemies were killed and terribly injured. This place is Rabaa Square in Cairo in August 2013, when the Egyptian army and police forces attacked the Rabaa sit-in that was organized by members, supporters, and sympathizers of the Muslim Brotherhood and of the ousted President Mohamed Morsi. This event came a few weeks after the mass demonstrations of 30 June h followed by a military coup.
The imagined relationship that I introduce here is based on the Coptic Orthodox tradition of khidma, which loosely refers to a wide range of material (i.e. charitable/philanthropic) and spiritual services offered in the name and for the sake of Jesus . I ask: What if Copts had been present at Rabaa Square amid its severe moments of blood and fire? How did their actual absence and the absence of their tradition of khidma, which is based on unconditional love, support and, care even to the “strangers” and the “enemies” reflect important, yet understudied, difficulties that prevent and complicate the presence of a “Good Samaritan” in Egypt?
My argument is both a theological and an anthropological one. It begins with an atypical understanding of the relation between blood and faith in the lives of the Copts. I do not initially refer to the blood of Jesus on the cross that is imagined to shape the core of the Christian beliefs but with another kind of blood that has assumingly spilled to protect such beliefs. Put differently, I look at the Christian faith in Egypt not as it is usually perceived as a victimizing entity that is shaped and produced by the excretion of the blood of the Copts and their “neighbors.” On the contrary, I take the blood of the “strangers” and the “enemies” as other significant extinguishing forces that cause Copts to doubt, escape, and hide their traditions and beliefs.
Starting with the Coptic Christian faith as the superior actor rather than the inferior victim , I point out that especially given a structural violence that strictly separates the “evil” from the “good” , other levels of complexity regarding being a “good” Christian in Egypt should be investigated. Beyond the (in)-famous narratives that tell about the marginalization of Coptic Christians as a religious minority in a country of a Muslim majority, I attempt to illuminate other moments of spiritual confusion and failure in which Copts leave their enemies “naked, injured, and in prison” .
An Afterlife of Rabaa
The environment of academic research in Egypt is terrifying. During the last few years, we saw a researcher killed and others imprisoned. Hence, during my doctoral research studies, I have reflected on how imagination might be a nice strategy for those who feel weakened or restrictive positions .
To be sure, I totally understand that the presence of Coptic Christians at Rabaa Square would never happen not only because it is a matter from a dead past but also due to an intense political and social upheaval that would interrupt any attempt to ask about the current conditions and needs of the alive “enemies.” Nevertheless, it is here where the power of imagination works as a nice methodological gift that does not stop at when people die or sleep. Coming from an anthropological background, I have thought of how imagination accompanies us even when we form relationships with spirits in the other unseen worlds . It takes seriously the interactions we conduct during our dreams. It symmetrically connects these invisible milieux to the material “real” world without giving any authority of one entity over the other. Last but not least, imagination always gives agency even to the missed, the absent, and the silent.
In this regard, my imagination in this essay starts with the assumption that those who were killed on the Rabaa Square and those who are now in prison in its aftermath might not be necessarily missed and absent from our everyday world. However, their spirits are present and complicate such everydayness. They weave what I call other everydaynesses that haunt our lives with other silent voices and unrecognized agencies .
I firstly thought about the idea of this multiple co-existing everydaynesses while doing some library research at the Orient Institute Beirut (OIB), namely drawing from the work of post-colonial and sexuality studies scholar Dina Georgis. To begin, Georgis writes in her monograph The Better Story about the power of imagination of the unseen . She makes a new interesting reading of the story of Bhuvaneswari that Gayatri Spivak mentions in her famous piece “Can the Subaltern Speak?” that investigates methods and subjects of resistance in post-colonial India .
For Spivak, Bhuvaneswari committed suicide because her community did not hear her grievances. Her voice was oppressed and silenced because her problems, as Georgis puts it, “failed to correspond to understood meanings of [post-colonial] resistance” . Thus, Spivak particularly perceived Bhuvaneswari as a victim of her “failure” to gain recognition and representation through the political actions of her group. On the contrary, Georgis illustrates that reading Bhuvaneswari’s victimhood story via the politics of the “post-colonial logic” would be unfair because it dismisses “the conditions of her social context, the representations of her gender and her psychic and unconscious resistance to these things” .
For Georgis, Bhuvaneswari cannot speak, but “can we be sure that her ghost does not?” Put differently, “[e]ven if suicide might not be what we would dream for her,” Georgis adds, this should be Bhuvaneswari’s better story because “that allowed her to represent her life with dignity” without asking for any form of protection from her society . Here, it is not Bhuvaneswari’s cry that was rejected in Georgis’s view, but she herself refused to integrate her problems into any sort of collective representations by her society. Her spirit would always remind us that there is never only one way to resist or to express one’s grievances.
The members of the Rabaa sit-in did not commit suicide in the literal sense of Bhuvaneswari, but they occupied a position within the Egyptian society, which was not accepted by mainstream forces. In their acceptance to stay in Rabaa Square even amid their dehumanization and demonization by the media and the campaigns of hatred mobilized against them, they were regarded as “abnormal” minority who could no longer be “real” Egyptians. Therefore, five years after getting rid of the members of this minority in Rabaa Square, I wonder if their ghosts would still remind us that once there were people who had a different imagination of the “political.”
At this point, one should ask, how would the imagination of an afterlife of the Rabaa massacre haunt and enter into a conversation with our everyday lives?  Here, an anthropologist would be interested in getting closer to the personal relationships and interactions formed between the spirits of the lost on the one hand and their families, relatives, and beloved ones who miss their presence in their lives on the other. Such interactions would bring us closer to the voices of the members of the Rabaa sit-in. These voices work beyond their collective representation either as demons or even as victims who deserve what happened to them because they have blindly followed their “demonic” leaders without being able to consider the responsibility of their “wrong” actions.
Faith without Victims
Unfortunately, I still have a problem in getting closer to Rabaa Square, even with an imagined afterlife that would allow me to have contact with the unseen and the silent. This discomfort is due to what I call my “naturalized” Christian identity that, in turn, has “naturalized” an enmity with those who were killed and injured in the square. Maybe I do not consider myself a “true” Christian believer, but there are many other identifying signs that by default attach me to the Coptic Orthodox community. My name belongs to a popular Christian saint and martyr from the fourthhcentury; I was baptized, covered with the Oil of Catechumens. In addition I bear a cross tattoo painted on my right wrist. All these signs have prevented me during the last five years from writing about what happened at Rabaa from an imagined viewpoint of those who witnessed it with their eyes and ears.
Within this context, the Egyptian state has “succeeded” in preventing the presence of my anthropological role through the division it has conducted within the Egyptian society. The “success” I mean here has been achieved not only by the demonization/victimization of the members of the Rabaa sit-in but also through the victimization of the Coptic Christian community. There is a rupture formed between both camps that not only stopped me from researching what happened in the square, but also asked Copts in general, myself included, to accept and to be silent about acts of killing. This is simply because, until now, there is the strong perception that if the members of the Rabaa sit-in would not have been murdered, Copts would have definitely been the alternate causalities. This imposed fear has motivated Copts to dismiss one of the most important laws of the New Testament, that is, “to love [our] enemies, and to pray for those who persecute [us].”
In this regard, whenever I have mentioned the idea of this essay to my Coptic interlocutors and relatives, I hear very similar answers. Mr. Sabry , who leads a Coptic Christian Youth Meeting in Heliopolis neighborhood of Cairo, is one example. Mr. Sabry’s Youth Meeting is a form of khidma (religious services and activities) among many others that Coptic Christians do during their everyday lives. He devotes his time and money to serving young Coptic Christians who are between twenty to thirty years old. In August 2017, I had a long conversation with him, in which he talked about the role of his meeting in cultivating “good” Christians. In doing so, Mr. Sabry tries to teach the youth at the meeting the Christian values of love and caring. He believes that Christians should always be effective actors within their society and meet not only the spiritual needs of the people but also their material demands.
Within this context, while talking about such values that reflect what khidma means and how it covers different aspects of people’s lives, I asked Mr. Sabry about Rabaa. In particular, I asked about our role as Christians in accepting and loving our enemies through our tradition of khidma. To be honest, my sudden question introduced an environment of frustration and confusion about the possibility of being “good” Christians during the Rabaa massacre. As Mr. Sabry told me:
What do you want us to do Mina? They would have killed us…[S]hould we wait till they come to our homes and kill us? Yes, the Bible says that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us…Yes, I know the verse well…I understand it, and I wish to apply it…but this is difficult…believe me it is difficult to do so…what should we do? Yes, if someone would come and kill me, I would not leave him to do so…But tell me, if someone would come to us to rape our mothers, wives, and sisters and to kill them in front of us, what would you do? Nothing…you would do nothing not because you are a “bad Christian” but also because you have a family and you are scared for them.
Mr. Sabry’s opinion put me in a position whereby I might accept the killing of my “enemies.” His imagination (or nightmare) of what could happen to my mother and sister interrupted my imagination of the presence of Coptic Christians in Rabaa Square. In addition to Mr. Sabry’s opinion, I also followed Facebook and Twitter posts written by Coptic laymen and clergymen who praised and supported what happened on the Rabaa Square. In fact, this did not happen without clear preceding pleas. During the one-year ruling of President Mohamed Morsi (June 2012 - June 2013), the supporters of the Islamist president in the streets and on different media outlets asked Christians to respect the opinions of the majority, and to accept the fact that they are a minority, if not an “infidel” minority .
As a result, a common sense of fear pervades among Coptic Christians. Moreover, some Copts already thought of leaving the country. Due to a systemic marginalization not only on the official governmental-level but also on the everyday interactions that belittled the position of Copts within the Egyptian state and society—they felt that Egypt is no longer theirs, and that they should migrate .
Furthermore, one can never deny the sectarian violence that Coptic Christians have been facing following the ousting of Morsi. Part of my fieldwork is conducted at the Upper Egyptian governorate of al-Minya. Following the July coup, many Christian parishes and households were burnt as a response to the massacre committed at Rabaa Square. In the eyes of fundamentalist Islamist groups, Copts were the reason for what occurred. They should be blamed, the scapegoats targeted in any plans of revenge .
Consequently, before and after the July 2013 coup, many Copts backed the military regime of Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. It was believed the he would protect not only their lives but also their faith and houses of worship. But how would a faith, which has been protected by the blood of its martyrs throughout centuries, get such protection when “others” are slaughtered? How would Coptic Christians support a massacre in order to keep their beliefs alive, even if the core of such beliefs rests on the unconditional love of Jesus Christ, who died and sacrificed his life for the world?
Accordingly, amid all this violence, blood, and fear, in an era when victimhood and its narratives have become the normal language , I still insist on searching for and giving possibility to the presence of Christian love among the “enemies” in Rabaa Square. It is true that I had failed to research the previously mentioned afterlife of Rabaa and its micro-interactions as an anthropologist for five years. Nonetheless, I might now be able not only as an anthropologist but also as a “naturalized” Christian to imagine relationships between Coptic Christians on one hand and the present “real” spirits of those who are now missed and silenced not only outside our material empirical world but also inside the prisons of the current political regime.
This imagination demands agency not victims, who would always blame others for their inactions. It demands a faith that would be dead without work and actions according to the message of Apostle James in the New Testament . Since victimhood narratives damage the subjectivity of the individual , as they assume that s/he would not be able to act or to take the responsibility of her/his actions, it would be difficult to investigate the faith and the spiritual lives of the Copts beyond how they would always need protection from the state. Hence, one might argue that imagining the presence of Coptic Christians at Rabaa Square is accompanied not only by the love of khidma but also by the courage to confront what frustrates us and causes confusion to our “pure” religious lives. It is a courage that would question whether the state structural violence does actually protect the Coptic faith, or instead produces important, yet understudied, weaknesses and difficulties regarding the cultivation of a “good” Christian in Egypt.
A current anthropological debate asks whether people are able to live with their religious traditions during their everyday lives, or whether we should separate between people’s understanding of what a religious tradition is from what everydayness means . Within this context, I have thought that instead of narrowly dealing with traditions as the only discursive concept that can be adapted according to people’s various interpretations of functions and the objectives of such traditions , the term everydayness might itself be pluralized and discursively understood to explore people’s uncertainties and confusions about their traditions and the extent of their roles.
At the beginning of my talk with Mr. Sabry, he insisted that there is no difference between the tradition of khidma and his everyday life. However, he later decided to weave another disconcerting everydayness into our conversation when I brought the topic of the Rabaa massacre. Such everydayness does not necessarily deny or exclude khidma. However, it exists for its own existential reasons side-by-side with the other everydayness of khidma. It exists to keep Mr. Sabry—the father, the husband, and the brother—alive together with Mr. Sabry the “good” Christian, who leads a youth spiritual meeting. However, it should be noted that the collectivity and the mutual existence of these everydaynesses do not exist without problems and unresolved dilemmas. Due to the Egyptian state structural violence and its contradictory roles in producing both a possibility and impossibility of living as a “good” Christian in Egypt, the multiple everydaynesses might stop each other from being fully realized.
Hence, people’s need to hold various everydaynesses is a need to tell various stories about their different interests and desires but also pressures and anxieties. Sometimes, these stories have to escape and to hide from each other. They might also refuse and hate each other because one story would insist on dismissing and forgetting relationships that are required and demanded by another. For example, one story would remind the other of its failure in fulfilling Jesus’s imagination regarding the interaction between the “Good Samaritan” and the “Judean,” or my imagination of the presence of a Coptic Christian khidma at Rabaa Square among those who were killed, tortured, and imprisoned.
 To read the Parable of the Good Samaritan from the Bible: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+10%3A25-37&version=NIV
 Khidma is used in Islamic contexts, but for the purpose of this essay I am confining it to Christian ones (See: Amira Mittermaier, “Bread, Freedom, Social Justice: The Egyptian Uprising and a Sufi Khidma,” Cultural Anthropology 29, no. 1 (2014), 54–79.
 Historian Paul Sedra wrote about the necessity of dealing with Copts as actors rather than victims in Paul Sedra, “Writing the History of Modern Copts: From Victims and Symbols to Actors,” History Compass 7, no. 3 (2009), 1049-1063.
 The split happened within the Egyptian society during the time of the Rabaa massacre is mentioned in a recent article published by anthropologist Samuli Schielke, “There Will Be Blood: Expectations and Ethics of Violence During Egypt’s Stormy Season,” Middle East Critique 26, no. 3 (2017), 205-220.
 From a verse in the Bible in the Gospel of Mathew (25:36)
 For more about Egypt’s repression of academics see: https://www.swp-berlin.org/en/point-of-view/the-regeni-murder-egypts-repression-of-academics-and-journalists/
 I would like to thank Professor Hakem al-Rustom from the University of Michigan for guiding me to this idea during a private conversation in March 2016.
 On the power and the agency of the absent and the missed, I relied on the edited book of Bille Mikkel, Hastrup Frida, and Sørensen Tim (eds), An Anthropology of Absence: Materializations of Transcendence and Loss, (Springer: New York, Dordrecht, Heidelberg, and London, 2010).
 Dina Georgis, The Better Story: Queer Affects from the Middle East, (State New York: University of New York Press, 2013). The quotes I used from Georgis’s book afterward are from the second chapter of her book.
 Gayatari Chakravorty Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” in Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (eds), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, ( London: Macmillan, 1988).
 See Dina Georgis (2013), 58.
 I firstly read about the idea of Afterlife in Gaston Gordillo, Rubble: The Afterlife of Destruction, (Duke: Duke University Press, 2014). From this book, I got to know the earlier work of Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt (ed), Illuminations: Essays & Reflections,. (New York: Schocken, 2007).
 Mr. Sabry is a pseudonym.
 Jason Brownlee from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace published a report about violence committed against Copts under the ruling of the Muslim Brotherhood. Accessible here: https://carnegieendowment.org/files/violence_against_copts3.pdf
 Nada Mostafa from Egypt Today wrote about the attacks on Coptic Churches following the dispersal of the Rabaa sit-in.
 See the last chapter of Samuel Tadros, Motherland Lost: The Egyptian and Coptic Question for Modernity, (Stanford-California: Hoover Institution Press, 2013).
 On how and why victimhood became a mainstream influential language in modern societies, see Didier Fassin & Richard Rechtman, The Empire of Trauma: An Inquiry into the Condition of Victimhood, (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2007).
 See the Message of James (2:14-26).
 On how victimhood destroys individual’s subjectivity see the second chapter in Bernhard Giessen, .Triumph & Trauma, (New York & London: Routledge, 2016)
 For more about this debate see two articles published in the Hau Journal of Ethnographic Theory. This first is by Nadia Fadil & Mayanthi Fernando, “Rediscovering the “everyday” Muslim: Notes on an Anthropological Divide,” Hau Journal for Ethnographic Theory 5, no. 2 (2015), 59-88. The second article is by Samuli Schielke, “Living with Differences: A Reply to Fadil & Fernando,” Hau Journal for Ethnographic Theory 5, no. 2 (2015), 89-92.
 This idea was firstly introduced by anthropologist Talal Asad in his article “The idea of an anthropology of Islam,” 1986b (Center for Contemporary Arab Studies). Moreover, anthropologists of Christianity have recently applied this concept in their work. See for example Sonja Luehrmann, Praying with the Senses: Contemporary Orthodox Christian Spirituality in Practice, (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2017).