Egypt’s “Schindler” at Maspero

 

By YUSRY FOUDA

Before the end of World War II, a German businessman named Oscar Schindler managed to save more than one thousand Polish Jews from the Holocaust. The Nazi occupation had herded over four thousand Jews in Krakow to be transferred to the gas chambers in Auschwitz. In 1993, Steven Spielberg portrayed this story in his great movie "Schindler's List" featuring Liam Neeson and Ben Kingsley.

 

With a deep sense of bitterness and shame, we find ourselves compelled to compare certain aspects of this tragic and outrageous story with a similarly tragic and outrageous story that took place in Egypt five weeks ago. On the evening of October 9, havoc suddenly struck a Coptic demonstration in front of the Maspero building. The mayhem hindered a Muslim businessman's arrival at his company's offices in a building that overlooks the place of events. When he finally got there, this man, who had seen war zones before, was shocked at the sight of so many wounded people, dead bodies, and body parts that filled the now dark and scary building entrance and corridor leading to the staircase.

 

No human with a scintilla of goodness in his heart could stand before such carnage, contemplating whether those body parts belong to Muslims or Christians. When the man arrived at his company office he saw real horror on the terrified faces of strangers desperately trying to find refuge. Besides his employees, there were over forty people including a priest in his clerical vestments.

 

His employees recounted the horrifying moments when the military police, armed with machineguns, stormed their offices, terrifying them and asking their names…"Mohamed"… "No, you're ok, where are the Copts?" The petrified Copts were scarily moving from one room to the other trying to hide.

 

The structure of the company's old building with its many corridors and passageways was a blessing. The businessman instantaneously decided to hide all those Christians in the bathrooms. In a truly moving sight, compassionate Muslim employees offered to give their ID cards to their Christian brothers suggesting they could use them to escape.

 

The man and his employees spent their first candlelit night under siege guarding their Christian brothers stacked in the bathrooms. The military police intermittently carried out surprise searches of the place and they were sometimes accompanied with personnel in their civvies, a scene that brings to mind images of the Gestapo in World War II movies.

 

Time passed very slowly and the businessman kept checking on the hidden Christians, supplying them with food and drink. He then realized that this situation cannot last for long; he had to plan to help those people escape from the back door. They had to make up stories to use as excuse if they were stopped by anyone on the street. In such a despicable and horrendous situation Egyptians were obliged to make up excuses for walking out on the street and Christians were obliged to pretend to be heading to the mosque for the dawn prayer.

 

Over the next forty eight hours the man managed to help all the Christians to escape safely—except one: the priest. Despite all the businessman's arduous efforts to convince him, the priest remained adamant: "I won't change my clothes even if I have to die."

 

People of any religion, race or origin cannot but respect and hold in high esteem such a priest. Similarly, one cannot but feel great pride and deep gratitude for this businessman. However, we cannot ignore that the events of this bloody Sunday reflect a hideous and insidious alliance between the authorities and virulent ignorance that could very well turn deadly.

 

You may tell us that the mayhem caused certain military police personnel to lose their temper and make mistakes. But please tell us they did not believe when they mowed down their compatriots that they were doing a service to Allah. Tell us that the old/new State Security personnel who were checking people’s religious IDs were corrupt and iniquitous individuals. Simply tell us that you made a mistake, it would be a lot more honorable for you and for the whole country and we might be able to forgive.

Even prophets make mistakes. One of them has even committed murder [David and Uriah?]. The difference is that he repented. Up till now, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has not acknowledged that those who handled the bloody Sunday crisis—from both the military police and the media—committed a terrible mistake. This in itself is a bigger and a more gruesome mistake.

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Translated by Coptic Solidarity from the original in Arabic published by Al Masry Al Youm]

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