Vigil takes stand against intolerance—and pays tribute to murdered Copts
A small but devoted crowd gathered before McGill’s Roddick Gates on Wednesday, Feb. 25 in a sombre vigil for the 21 Copts, native Christians of Egypt, captured and decapitated on video by Libyan ISIS-affiliated extremists. Holding candles, signs, or each other’s hands, they braved the chilly temperatures to protest against intolerance and bring to light the perilous nature of life for Copts in the Muslim world. One amongst them gave a simple speech in remembrance of why they congregated, offering it in English, French, and Arabic.
“It touched me personally because these Egyptian people come from my hometown [and] they’re Coptic as I am,” said the night’s sole speaker and also one of the organizers, Antonious Petro. He said he too had considered moving to Libya before deciding instead to live in Canada. “It could have been me instead of them.” The Copts, who make up some 10 per cent of Egypt’s 80-million population and are frequently discriminated against by the Muslim majority, are often forced to go to neighbouring Libya to be labourers and migrant workers. Petro fears the destabilization of Libya by Islamists and the deterioration of Egypt itself will further endanger a people already vulnerable and at risk. “It came at the end of a series of ugly events in Egypt and I was trying to do something. I could not follow the news and not do anything,” he said, having trouble to find the words. “I don’t know them personally, but I know how hard their lives were and why they had to leave [to Libya]. They didn’t have any choice.” The savage murders have provoked widespread revulsion from the world, and have been one of the official reasons behind Egypt’s campaign to bomb and uproot the ISIS presence in eastern Libya. The Coptic Church has begun the process of granting canonization to the 21 individuals as martyrs and saints.
Petro said he did not mention anything about religion in his vigil speech so as to minimize the religious aspect, focusing instead on a resolute protest against any sort of intolerance. “We’re here tonight to honour the lives that were taken.” “I didn’t want to say the word Christian or Copt because for me it’s bigger than that. [The extremists] prefer to kill Christians over Muslims, but there’s a political aspect behind that. It’s bigger than the Coptic people.” “If you had mentioned they were Christian Copts,” said one girl next to him, referring to the relative ignorance surrounding Egypt’s Christian minority,“Then people would have known who they were.” Petro agreed, and hoped this was the first step towards educating the public. “Ask a friend. Google it. I think they know what I’m talking about. What touched me was that they were just people who lost their lives.” Still, Petro was grim. “It’s going to get worse,” he said, referring to the Egyptian attacks on ISIS affiliates in Libya. “In response, [ISIS] kidnapped another 26 people. Military solutions have never worked, but…what else [is there]?”
Photos by Keith Race and Andrej Ivanov, The Concordian.