Heo, Angie. (2012). The Virgin Made Visible: Intercessory Images of Church Territory in Egypt. Comparative Studies in Society and History 54(2):361-391.
In the dark midnight hours of 11 December 2009, the Virgin Mary (al-‘adhra) burst into visibility against the skyline of al-Warraq, a working-class district on the neglected peripheries of Giza, Egypt. Hovering within a glowing triad of crosses, the apparition attracted spectators to the Church of the Virgin and the Archangel Michael along the main thoroughfare, Nile Street, even in the inconvenient hours between dusk and dawn. Within days, the Virgin was being discussed far and wide by Christians and Muslims, Egyptians and foreigners, skeptics and believers. Reactions were diverse: A journalist announced to his friends, “Even if the Virgin appeared before my very eyes, I would deny her.” A cab driver explained, “It is a trick, a big laser show in the sky.” A young mother urged, “Why [forbid oneself] the joy that the Virgin brings?”
Abstract: Phrases such as ‘the only difference is one of faith’ construct Copts and Muslims in Egypt as, although different, mainly the same as each other. Similar constructions of sameness are also dominant in historical and current Egyptian narratives on national unity. However, as a result of the privileging of sameness and the underplaying of differences, the interaction between narratives of sameness and difference has been left unexplored and partly ignored, not only by national movements, but also by research. Thus, the main issue examined in this article is how current Orthodox Christian practices in Egypt take shape under the influence of hegemonic narratives of sameness and difference. Supported by data collected from ethnographic fieldwork carried out in Egypt, the argument is that the Copts, by positioning themselves as Christians in specific locations and situations, are mediating the antithetical potentialities of being the same as or different from the national Muslim majority. In other words, Christianity not only makes a difference as a sign of the Copts’ minority position, but also simultaneously offers Copts a way out of their marginal position as a minority.
While devotional practices are usually viewed as mechanisms for reinforcing religious boundaries, in the multicultural, multiconfessional world of the Eastern Mediterranean, shared shrines sustain intercommunal and interreligious contact among groups. Heterodox, marginal, and largely ignored by central authorities, these practices persist despite aggressive, homogenizing nationalist movements. This volume challenges much of the received wisdom concerning the three major monotheistic religions and the “clash of civilizations.” Contributors examine intertwined religious traditions along the shores of the Near East from North Africa to the Balkans.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Sharing Sacred Places—A Mediterranean Tradition / Maria Couroucli
1. Identification and Identity Formation around Shared Shrines in West Bank Palestine and Western Macedonia / Glenn Bowman
2. The Vakëf: Sharing Religious Space in Albania / Gilles de Rapper
3. Komsiluk and Taking Care of the Neighbor’s Shrine in Bosnia-Herzegovina / Bojan Baskar
4. The Mount of the Cross: Sharing and Contesting Barriers on a Balkan Pilgrimage Site / Galia Valtchinova
5. Muslim Devotional Practices in Christian Shrines: The Case of Istanbul / Dionigi Albera and Benoît Fliche
6. Saint George the Anatolian: Master of Frontiers / Maria Couroucli
7. A Jewish-Muslim Shrine in North Morocco: Echoes of an Ambiguous Past / Henk Driessen
8. What Do Egypt’s Copts and Muslims Share? The Issue of Shrines / Catherine Mayeur-Jaouen
9. Apparitions of the Virgin in Egypt: Improving Relations between Copts and Muslims? / Sandrine Keriakos
10. Sharing the Baraka of the Saints: Pluridenominational Visits to the Christian Monasteries in Syria / Anna Poujeau
Conclusion: Crossing the Frontiers between the Monotheistic Religions, an Anthropological Approach / Dionigi Albera
Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt make up roughly 10% of the Egyptian population. This brief essay concerns the ways in which they publicly confess their Christianity, the potential hazards of such confessions, and what I think such confessions communicate, and to whom. I focus on the Maspero Massacre, of October 9, 2011, when mostly Coptic protestors in front of the Maspero state television building in Cairo were mowed down by army Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) and bullets. Twenty-eight civilians were killed that day.
First Paragraph: “I’ve been thinking lately about the circumstances under which Coptic Christians emerge on the Egyptian socio-political landscape. Those circumstances tend to be, in a word, ugly. Copts become a visible religious community when they are attacked. And then Westerners in particular wonder: “Who are the Copts?” (I should also point out, however, that although well aware of the existence of Copts, or al-aqbat in Arabic, most Egyptian Muslims are equally unfamiliar with Coptic religiosity.) This strange play between visibility and invisibility is the problematic that I take up here, arguing that what is desirable for Copts in a new Egypt is a visibility that takes seriously their religiosity. I do so by drawing on ethnographic fieldwork I have been doing among Copts and reflecting on recent events in Egypt.”