CAIRO: Thousands marched from the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Abbaseya to Tahrir Square on Friday, in memory of the 27 killed in the Oct. 9 crackdown on the Maspero protest.
Led by a ceremonial procession carrying images of the victims, the march attracted more people as it moved through Ghamra and Ramsis St. in the protection of the police.
The demonstrators avoided religious chants in order to emphasize a unified Egyptian identity. Young participants at the procession wore red, white and black t-shirts with the pharaonic key of life prints. Women carrying pictures of the martyrs wore white pharaonic dresses.
Except for the cross, the banners held by demonstrators were political in nature with countless Egyptian flags.
“We are carrying Egyptian flags to show that we are Egyptians. No difference between us and Muslims. We are all Egyptian,” said Ashraf Kamal, a welder.
The women leading the procession were followed by a symbolic flower-topped casket, also adorned with the martyrs’ photos.
The march stopped first at the Coptic Hospital, where most of the victims were taken on Oct. 9.
“This is a celebration for our martyrs. We didn’t come here as Christians, but as Egyptians. We have no expectations about what will happen next,” said Julia Magdy, 23.
A march on Oct. 9 to protest the destruction of a church in Aswan was met with violence. Demonstrators said they were shot at in Shubra. When they reached the state TV building, where thousands were already demonstrating, the military charged at protesters.
An official fact-finding mission reaffirmed eyewitnesses’ account that military APCs ran over protesters. But the report, prepared by the National Council for Human Rights, said an “unknown third party” fired at protesters, and that the military didn’t have live ammunition.
It was the most violent crackdown on a protest since the 18-day uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak earlier this year.
On Nov. 11, it was a different picture. The march was warmly welcomed as passersby and residents from balconies cheered it on. It was also heavily protected. In addition to policemen on the ground, plain-clothed policemen stood on the Sixth of October Bridge. A rope held and surrounded by men encircled the procession to prevent any possible attack.
The march was organized by the Maspero Youth and the Kateba El-Taybeya, in addition to the Church.
Hany Ramzy of the Maspero Youth said the demonstration was both religious and political. “We want to remind the state with the need for equality,” he said.
Marching to a somber drumbeat with Vangelis’ Conquest of Paradise playing in the background, the procession continued with demonstrators chanting for a civil state and against state media. During the Oct. 9 clashes, state TV called on citizens to go to the streets and protect the army against an attack by Coptic protesters.
Demonstrators on Friday thanked other journalists who reported the events with integrity.
The procession stopped for the Muslim call for prayers in the evening. Throughout the march, about a dozen men would stop to form a human cross on the ground.
“God, protect our country and bring your blessings,” the demonstrators sang, “We come to you with broken hearts and have hope in you.”
The song changed to the national anthem as the march entered Tahrir Square. Father Flopateer, who was questioned by military prosecution following Oct. 9, called for a fair, civilian trial for those involved in the clashes.
“How can the military investigate the death when they are responsible for it?” he told the crowd in Tahrir. He also called for the release of activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, imprisoned pending investigation into accusations of inciting violence on Oct. 9, and blogger Maikel Nabil, convicted of insulting and spreading false information about the army in a blog post published earlier this year.
Representative from the Maspero Youth took a makeshift stage to say military tanks won’t stop Egypt’s Christians from fighting for their rights. The group said its members will take part in the Nov. 18 demonstrations against a proposed constitutional principles document giving the military powers over any elected government.
“We all came here expecting that we will die but thanks to the march’s leaders we are safe,” said Bassem Fakhry one of the protesters who marched from the Cathedral.
The same sentiment was echoed by other participants. “My mother, father and uncles … were all sure that I would die today. I even told them I want a white coffin,” said Rania Nabil one of the drummers in the procession.
She added that despite her fears, she took part in the march to send a message to the ruling military that the resistance continues. “I just cannot imagine that the military, which is supposed to protect us, has killed us.”