INKING FOR EGYPT

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Inking for Egypt, Christians and Human Rights Education

Mary Nicola is a teacher and human rights advocate. Mary has continued the Coptic tradition of tattooing in Australia and has been keeping many of Sydney’s Tattooists busy. Mary is a great supporter of ACM’s initiatives and attends most of our events. The photo above is of Mary at an ACM rally outside the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in January 2011 following the Alexandria Church Bombings.

I’m part of the lucky few; the one that got out, had a chance to leave while it was still do-able. I’m Egyptian Coptic Christian, but have called Australia home for 24 years. Australia is my home, and thank God for that!

When my parents made that decision to leave their beloved Egypt and migrate to the unknown, you could forgive them for feeling hesitant and depressed. How would they communicate, where would they live, what jobs would they find, and what church would they go to? But all of that didn’t seem to matter, because they were certain on one thing; life would be better for us, their kids, and their two Christian daughters that would not have a chance in Egypt. They left for us, and I thank them every day!

As a young child, my parents always insisted I watch the 6 o-clock news, the 6:30 news on SBS, and the 7 o-clock news on ABC… you get the idea. We read Time Magazine, the Bulletin, and listened to dad’s small portable radio beaming out the Arabic news every Saturday morning.  Today that upbringing has helped me continue my thirst for knowledge and education into human rights, justice and discrimination against Christians… ironically; I’m a Legal Studies, Business Studies and Economics teacher.

My first Tattoo… an identity crisis!

I went to an awesome school, where I was respected, acknowledge as a Christian, and never ridiculed for fasting, or not wanting a boyfriend, and being part of a majority for a change. I went to St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox College in Wattle Grove, and second to my parents, I attribute my strength in my personality, to that school. We, my classmates, were Egyptians, Australians, and Coptic. However, when I went to University, and you’re thrust back in the minority amongst thousands of cohorts, you quickly discover that you need to identify yourself.

All it took was one person saying, “Where are you from”? Excitedly I responded “Egypt”!  What followed was the reason I began to ink my identity on my arm. “Oh so you’re Muslim”… “No”, I replied sharply.

Shortly after my 18th birthday, I tattooed the Coptic Cross on my right forearm; a badge of my identity, faith, and origins. And since then, that conversation has never happened again. Contrary, people would see my tattoo and say, “Oh are you Coptic”? And I would proudly reply “Yes”, and proceed to educate them all about the origins of tattooing the Coptic Cross on our arms, and the discrimination occurring to Christians in Egypt.

My second tattoo – sharing in Egypt’s Pain

I was always sceptical of the 2011 January Revolution. I saw it as ‘better the devil you know’, especially from a minority’s perspective where discrimination against Christians has always been there, why possibly make it worse right?

When Mohamed Morsi came into power, any optimism left in me quickly disappeared. His Islamic agenda was clear as crystal and Egypt for me was lost. I would never be able to visit Egypt again, or ever bring my kids to see their mother’s home land. But the Lord likes to show his people that when all seems impossible, He makes it possible; and on July 3rd 2013, Egyptian army chief General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi removed the President of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, from power.

Unfortunately, Morsi was not the only problem, and for over a month after his removal, Christians in Egypt where seen as the easy target by Morsi devotees for apparently showing support to the army for Morsi’ removal. This escalated on August 15th and 16th2013, which will go down as the largest scale of Christian targeted attacks in Egypt’s modern history.

On 15 August, following the security forces raids on Cairo protest camps held by supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi, churches across Egypt came under frenzied attack Thursday as Morsi loyalists’ allegedly orchestrated nationwide assaults on Christian targets throughout the country. It’s estimated that as many as 56 churches and Christian businesses were “completely” devastated by fire across nine Egyptian governorates and many other churches were looted or stormed.

As I glared at the TV screen in complete disbelief, I was dismayed for my people, my Egypt, my Christian brothers and sister, my family, the clergy, and centuries old Churches that were now lost forever. Egypt was in crisis and I couldn’t do anything about it. People were in so much pain, by others that were so indifferent to their suffering. Innocent people lost their places of worship, where they attended Sunday school, heard spiritual talks, sang in choirs, got married in, their memories; and the world, the west, was indifferent!

I needed to share in Egypt’s pain; innocent Muslims, and Christians who lost so much and at no fault of their own. I also need to remind myself of the higher promise, given uniquely to Egypt and Egyptians, a long time ago; that we are Blessed! I had to remind myself that, because I had lost hope in all other worldly ‘princes’, and needed to reaffirm my faith in the heavenly King!

So shortly after the destruction of so many historic Churches, I got my second tattoo… “Blessed is Egypt My People” Isaiah 19::25.

It hurt and I’m glad it did, because I needed to share in Egypt’s pain. But more importantly, my tattoos were educating. My students would stop me in school and ask, “Ms what did you get”, and I’d show them, then proceed to update them on the issues in Egypt, and how we should sign this, and protest there, and pray for this. People at my gym would stop me and ask, “What does that say”?  I’d show them my arm and tell them about the history and significance of the verse, and the persecution that is currently happening to Christians in Egypt. And on every occasion that would happen, I’d get the same response, “Oh, I didn’t know that stuff still happened in Egypt” or, “Oh we didn’t even know that Egypt had Christians”.

Education is key… I rest my case!

My third tattoo – last one, I think?

Pope Shenouda III played a significant role in my life, and having personally met him three times, he has left a lasting impact on me. Listening to some of his sermons and Wednesday meetings in Cairo on CYC, always resonated a wise and humble man. He wasn’t politically involved, but still solved issues, and seemed to bring peace on the congregation.

When Pope Shenouda passed on March 17th 2012, I was gutted, and at such at a critical time in Egypt’s political instability. What would happen to his people, his flock, his Church?

While the Churches affairs were put in order with the appointment of Pope Tawadros II, the plight of the Egyptian Christian was getting worse.

At a turning point in the revolution, on April 7, 2013, Police and armed Muslim Brotherhood supporters laid siege on the seat of the Coptic Church in Cairo, St. Mark’s Cathedral, killing one person and injuring at least 21, as a funeral for four Christians killed in sectarian clashes on Saturday descended into chaos. Then you had Christian school teacher Demiana Emad in Luxor, being charged with insulting Islam, and receiving 6 months jails, as with Bishoy Armia receiving 5 years in jail for inciting sectarian strife.

This was compounding the other constant issue of Christian kidnappings, of women, children and wealthy men, holding them to ransom for exorbitant amounts, and the forced conversion of those kidnapped women to Islam. To date, and at the anguish of their parents, there are over 550 counts of kidnapped Coptic girls that neither the state, police or government want to acknowledge or do anything. This further angered me when Islamist group Boko Haram in Nigeria kidnap over 300 girls in May 2014, of which the majority where Christians. The world went into tatters and sent international condemnation of such actions and support to the Nigerian government to try and find the girls; as they should.

But what of Egypt?

What of those girls and children who are far away from their families right now, frightened and alone, with a strange man forcing them into marriage and Islam. What horrors are they experiencing, while we sit back safely with our families?

The world went into human rights overdrive when Meriam Ibrahim of Sudan was jailed, and sentenced to execution for refusing to renounce her Christian faith; as they should.

But what of Egypt?

What about all those who have converted to Christianity in secret and now live in exile, in fear of their lives, who can’t change their religion or name on their Egyptian identity card, and will forever have to watch over their shoulders.

Why it is that Peter Greste’s 7 year jail term is internationally criticized and condemned; as it should, but Demiana and Bishoy’s receive no voice?

At the weakest point in my life, I then ashamedly asked, “Where’s God”?

None of this was happening to me, and that’s what I was asking. And ask quickly as I asked, was as quickly as He responded, ‘Rabena Mawgood’.

And so on Friday 13th June, 2014, I got my third Tattoo.

 

It was big, it was clear, it was obvious, and it hurt a lot!

My dad instantly become worried for me, and said “Why”? “It’s too big”, “you’ll never be able to go back to Egypt”.

I told him because I needed a clear and obvious reminder to never question God’s presence again. That no matter how hard things get for Christians in Egypt and around the world, “Rabena Mawgood”. I needed to feel something for all those suffering around the world, even if it was just a little pain; something. And I knew this probably sealed my fate to ever journeying back home to Egypt, but I’ll work that out when I need to.

Anymore?

My last tattoo is now two weeks old, and I’ve already been stopped by the most random of people asking what it says. I use that as a conversation platform about everything else that’s happening in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and here in Australia and I’ve never been asked to stop. People want to know, and we need to be the voice of the voiceless, or else all this bloodshed will be in vain.

Ironically my last tattooist, an ex-Kings Cross Aussie in his 50s, wants me to come back and talk to him some more; I might just do that.

Mary Nicola, Sydney


 

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