Yasmine El Rashidi of The New York Review of Books explores the ascendant role of Islamists in post-revolutionary Egyptian politics and society.
The forty-year-old Virgin Mary Church on Cairo's al-Wahda Street—the name means unity, or oneness—looks striking these days. Its cream and white façade is unscathed by the dust and smog that otherwise blanket neighboring buildings and the rest of the city, and inside, its walls and floors glisten with newly laid cappuccino-colored marble. The church, its guardians say, has never looked better. “Ever, in its entire history.”
On May 8, this church, in the impoverished Cairo neighborhood of Imbaba, a ten-minute drive from Tahrir Square, was a scene of devastation. It had been ravaged by flames and its insides gutted, smashed, looted, and charred after clashes broke out between Muslims and Christians over the case of a Coptic woman named Abeer Fakhri, an alleged convert to Islam whom ultraconservative Salafis had claimed was being held against her will at the nearby Church of St. Mina, which was also attacked. Fifteen people were killed in the violence and almost two hundred injured.
The attack was one of a series against Egypt's Coptic Christian minority in the weeks since President Hosni Mubarak stepped down on February 11. Since then, widespread and escalating crime has gripped the country. But the campaign against the Copts has stood out as by far the most egregious violence in post-revolutionary Egypt. “Stirring up sectarian tensions,” the Coptic activist Michael Meunier told me the week after the attack, “has always been the best way to keep the country divided—the Copts always get the biggest blow,” he said. “There are many actors who have stakes in causing this chaos.”