Monday, January 27, 2014

Matariya Massacre January 25, 2014 + Mahragan + The Holy Family

Reading about the events of January 25, 2014, the three year anniversary of the launch of the Egyptian uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, I came across casualty figures. The first stats I saw were these (in Arabic, from Shorouk News, January 26), which give a total of 53. I noticed that a lot of the casualties seemed to be from al-Matariya, a popular quarter in the north of Cairo. I counted, and the total was 21. A more recent accounting from WikiThawra gives a total of 89 dead, 28 of them from al-Matariya.

I posted the early figure of 21 on Facebook, and my FB friend Alex posted as a comment this video of the events at al-Matariya, which is titled the "al-Matariya Massacre."

It shows a very large crowd of demonstrators, at Maidan al-Matariya, and lots of Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) banners. (I've since learned that Matariya was one of two sites of MB demonstrations in Cairo on January 25, the other being Alf Maskan in Ain Shams. In Alf Maskan, according to WikiThawra, 32 died in confrontations with the security forces.) The young men who seem to be leading chants at the demo, shown early in the video, don't look like your typical Ikhwan members, but rather, like prototypical fans of mahragan (electro shaabi) music. Then you see confrontations between demonstrators and the security (who are not visible, you just hear shots being fired). And then, quite gruesome footage of casualties being carried from the lines of confrontation to (rudimentary) medical care. Quite gripping and shocking footage.

On twitter, I came across this photo of damage done to a wall of the shop by the firing of the security forces. You wonder what sort of ammunition they were using...

I've hunted around and been somewhat surprised that there has been very little coverage in English (or other European languages, as far as I can tell) of these events. One guesses because they happened in a popular quarter, which is far from the places that the Western media ever hangs out in, unlike Tahrir Square, which is very accessible. Al-Matariya is off the beaten path, like all of Cairo's popular quarters. One guesses as well that the absence of the usual subjects of Western coverage (young liberals/revolutionaries with Western education) is responsible for the lack of coverage. Finally, it was a Muslim Brotherhood organized demo, which is just not as sexy as a secular demo.

And yet al-Matariya is not, in fact, entirely unknown to the Western media. It's the 'hood of the celebrated mahragan (electro shaabi) posse, Eight Percent (Tamaniya fil-Miyya), composed of vocalists Wizza, Ortega and Oka. They're responsible for many great mahragan songs, including "Ana Aslan Gamid" (I'm Really Hard). This video, as of this writing, had been viewed by over 1,315,000 people.

These Matariya homies have received a great deal of publicity in both Egypt and abroad since 2011, including from yours truly, writing in Middle East Report, more recently for the Norient Musicfilm Festival 2014, and several times on this blog. They're among the mahragan stars featured in Hind Meddeb's fine documentary, Electro Chaabi, which screened at the Norient festival.

Al-Matariya is also an important pilgrimage site for Eastern Christians. The Holy Family is said to have stopped at al-Matariya village -- whose name is said to come from the latin Mater, for the Virgin Mary. (It was part of the area of the ancient city of Heliopolis, destroyed at the time of the Persian invasion in 525 BC.) Jesus is said to have used a staff that he took from Joseph, broken it into pieces, planted them, and then dug a well which made the pieces of wood take root and grow into a balsam tree. Mary (in the story about these events in the Qur'an -- not sure what verse) is said to have used the sweet-smelling water of the well (because of the balsam tree) to wash the clothes of Jesus, and so the well is known as the Tree of the Holy Virgin. A sycamore tree was planted on the site of the balsam in 1672, and a shoot of this tree still remains til today. 

Because Mary and Jesus are venerated in the Muslim tradition, and particularly in its popular versions (although Muslims do not believe in the virgin birth), both Muslims and Christians make pilgrimage til today to the shrine of Mary's tree. There are also a Jesuit Holy Family Church and a Coptic Virgin Mary Church at the site.

(A good source on the Holy Family in Egypt is Otto F.A. Meinardus' In the Steps of the Holy Family, 1963.)

The Holy Family visited Matariya because they were fleeing a massacre...

1 comment:

Hammer said...

Because Mary and Jesus are venerated in the Muslim tradition, and particularly in its popular versions (although Muslims do not believe in the virgin birth), both Muslims and Christians make pilgrimage til today to the shrine of Mary's tree.

Actually, all the main sects of Muslim tradition believe in the "virgin birth", or Immaculate Birth of Jesus Christ. It's even mentioned in a direct way in the Qura'an.