Thursday, July 31, 2008

Merlin's Prophesy: Egypt's Copts

Merlin's Prophesy

The harvest shall flourish in wintry weather
When two virginities meet together:

The King & the Priest must be tied in a tether
Before two virgins can meet together.
William Blake, "Merlin's Prophesy," from Poems from the Rosetti MS, in William Blake, The Works of William Blake: Selected Poetry and Prose 61 (Roslyn, New York: Black's Readers Service Company 1953).

Thus a description both of the impossible and of that aim to which institutional energy is necessarily bent, which the individual ought necessarily to restrain but cannot. Virginity is possible by an internalization of that Word through priest and king, and consciousness of virginity unmakes a meeting together of virgins. Only a rope confining king and priest, like horses, to a confined space, a space appropriate to them, permits a meeting now impossible. Space, choice, confinement, hierarchy, individual, apparatus all deployed to ensure a harvest in summery weather''and death in winter.

This poem came to mind as a read a grand apologia for the treatment of Copts by their cousins, the now Muslim descendants of the first Christians in Egypt. Gamal Nkrumah, Race Against Time, Al'Ahram Weekly, July 17-23, 2008.
A swelling chorus of Coptic Christian activists is vociferously protesting against the conditions of Copts in Egypt; some Coptic activists abroad even claim that they are facing genocide and extermination. Those at home tend to play down the Coptic "crisis" propagated by émigré Copts.

Id. With barely disguised condescension for the remnant of Christianity that has refused to follow their brothers, Kkrumah suggests the implausibility of the sort of tethering that Copts seek.
As far as overseas Copts are concerned, the protests seemed like the answer to two questions at once. First, the Coptic émigré communities have stressed that the lack of democratic reforms has compounded the Copts' political and social problems. . . . Second, they are pressing for radical political reform in Egypt as the panacea for the Coptic community and a solution to their predicament. What is obvious is that there is growing unrest among Copts, both at home and abroad, and that their struggles for greater religious freedoms and political gains are inextricably intertwined with the political reform agenda in the country.
Id. In language reminiscent of another age a century ago, and antother place Europe, among another religious minority, the Jewish people of Europe, Kkrumah notes the risks of misbehaving:
Indeed, many Copts in Egypt believe that their position is being undermined by the protests of the émigré Copts. While not denying that the Copts in Egypt have legitimate concerns and grievances, many Coptic laity believe that their interests would be compromised if the Copts abroad step up their angry demonstrations and protests.
Id. And he has a point. But who is holding the tether?
The Copts, on the whole, like their Muslim compatriots, are yearning for political change. There seems to be two options available at present. The first is aligning more closely to the forces of change in the country. The other is to collaborate more closely with the state, or at least to maintain good working relations with the powers that be. Shielding them from the interests of foreign predators and cushioning them from the toughest decisions encourage them to be even more reliant on their co-religionists overseas.
Id. And, indeed, their virgins have been losing their virginity apace. Or at least they remain as well trained as the so-called court Jews of the 18th century. Consider the circumspection of Boutros Boutros-Ghali trundled out to assure the skeptical in connection with the so called Abu Fana incident: "On 31 May, a dispute erupted between Coptic monks and Bedouin Arab tribesmen, apparently over land surrounding the monastery, and quickly turned into street battles that left one Muslim dead and three Copts injured and led to the kidnapping of three Coptic monks." Reem Leila, Abu Fana in Focus, Al-Ahram Weekly, July 24-30, 2008. Contrast the voices: with Buros Ghali marginalizing the incident as part of a larger global problem requiring global solutions
According to Boutros- Ghali, such incidents "happen constantly all over the world, due to the animosity resulting between different groups in one country." For Boutros-Ghali, a human rights culture needs to be spread in Egypt, as well as elsewhere, and this is what the NCHR is promoting. "Only by globally spreading these values, we can handle our inner problems," he said. (id.).
and the voices of majority Egyptians looking with suspicion in the same direction:
Mohamed Abdel-Aal, a member of the NCHR, refuted claims that sectarian disputes are the cause behind the Abu Fana events. Abdel-Aal also condemned demonstrations staged by Copts abroad requesting US interference, stating that, "domestic issues are to be handled from within the country, not from abroad. Disputing parties must resort to courts in order to solve their problems." Id.
There will be no harvest in wintry weather in Egypt, as it continues to embrace 19th century sensibilities for its indigenous peoples, and post modern transnational supra-communal privilege for its majority. But then to conceive of virginity in this landscape is to concede the tether to King and Priest.

No comments: