« | Home | »

In Mallawi


Gunshots crackle on a hot day in August. The residents of Mallawi, a town in southern Egypt, talk about whether people are raiding the police station or robbing the bank. Bands of young men in civilian clothes roam the rubble-strewn streets with assault rifles. After dark it’s best to stay indoors.

Two churches, as well as Christians’ shops and houses, have been burned here. In front of the charred altar in the Catholic church, a clock lies on a pile of debris, stopped at two minutes to five. A nearby statue of a Madonna and child has lost its heads. The priest’s robing room has been ransacked: the only things left are two cardboard boxes of Christmas ornaments and a wardrobe full of white cassocks.

The church was the last part of the complex to come under attack. Most of the pews are intact as neighbours managed to drive the attackers out before they torched the rest of the building. The priest’s office and apartments, as well as a school that was due to open next month, are all blackened, their contents missing or burned beyond recognition. The neighbouring streets are flooded with muddy water from efforts to douse the flames the night before. Water had to be brought from outside the complex because the attackers had smashed the water main, one parishioner said. The fire brigade didn’t come. 

Across Egypt, as people stay at home observing the 7 p.m. curfew, many are relieved that the country is back in the hands of the generals. Others ask how it came to this. Bishop Macarios of the diocese of Minya and Abu Qurqas refers to the judgment of Solomon, comparing the Muslim Brotherhood to the false mother who agrees to the idea of cutting the baby in half. Many people share his frustration at the Brotherhood’s not accepting political defeat (and often express it more venomously). The analogy doesn’t address the brutal crackdown that left hundreds of people dead, most of them peaceful protesters. The police are still rounding up Morsi’s supporters. Many have gone into hiding.

Many of Egypt’s Christians are living in fear, too. Copts, who make up roughly 10 per cent of the population, have been on the receiving end of much of Morsi’s supporters’ rage. Many Copts backed the movement that led to the president’s ouster on 3 July, though they’ve never been in the running for government. Historically, they have been politically silent, but like many Egyptians became more active in politics after 25 January 2011. John Kafoury, a member of a Minya church engineering committee, said: ‘We went out on the streets on 30 June and we knew the army could be against us. The army could have been with Morsi. We went out and we knew the police could be against us, Morsi’s police. We went out as Egyptians holding the Egyptian flag demanding bread, freedom and social justice. What we demanded on 25 January 2011, we demanded on 30 June.’

In many places in southern Egypt, despite the sectarian violence, Muslim and Christian neighbours have stood together. ‘Is this a Christian house?’ looters in Mallawi asked. The Muslim neighbours on either side didn’t answer. Khaleel, a young Christian man who didn’t want to give his last name, has joined a vigilante group to defend his home from attacks by Morsi’s supporters. The group is made up of Muslims and Christians. But people are thinking more about their religious differences these days, Khaleel says. ‘Now children will ask you, are you Muslim or are you Christian?’

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.

  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • Neil Kitson on Unwinnable War Two: There is no Chapter VII support for military action in Resolution 2249.
    • pinkycubin on Unwinnable War Two: Streetsj, It is obvious there is no clear 'solution'. That doesn't therefore mean that the use of ordnance dropped from height is part of the answ...
    • soadenubi on Being Lord Lugard: As a Nigerian normally resident in Lagos, I found the blog:Being Lord Lugard a most interesting read. This note is primarily a request that the Autho...
    • streetsj on Unwinnable War Two: Yes. So what's your solution? A negotiated settlement of peace for everyone. And who would disagree - but realistically what is the answer? One thing...
    • streetsj on What does Osborne want?: I have thought since 2010 that much of the most austere rhetoric has been directed at the financial markets. Meanwhile reality is very different as pu...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Edward Said: The Iraq War
    17 April 2003

    ‘This is the most reckless war in modern times. It is all about imperial arrogance unschooled in worldliness, unfettered either by competence or experience, undeterred by history or human complexity, unrepentant in its violence and the cruelty of its technology.’

    David Runciman:
    The Politics of Good Intentions
    8 May 2003

    ‘One of the things that unites all critics of Blair’s war in Iraq, whether from the Left or the Right, is that they are sick of the sound of Blair trumpeting the purity of his purpose, when what matters is the consequences of his actions.’

    Simon Wren-Lewis: The Austerity Con
    19 February 2015

    ‘How did a policy that makes so little sense to economists come to be seen by so many people as inevitable?’

    Hugh Roberts: The Hijackers
    16 July 2015

    ‘American intelligence saw Islamic State coming and was not only relaxed about the prospect but, it appears, positively interested in it.’

Advertisement Advertisement