Saturday 7 September 2013 — Mari Girgis Church, Al Fustat Old Cairo
Welcome to Margaret Warner, Anchor, The Mac Neil News Hour – PBS, USA
Samia, Konstantin and I just took a little outing this morning to Al Fustat, the ancient area of Cairo that was once the Fauborg Saint Honore (Paris) of the Silk Road. In other words it was the most lavish and wealthiest area along the ancient Silk Road where traders from every culture, religion and nation exposed their wares of silk, gold, silver, carpets and more.
Today it is a run down area and it is hard to imagine that it was once so lavish. Five hundred meters away from the souk is Mari Gergis Church, the first church built in Egypt in the 2nd century AD. Saint George is the patron saint and the story goes that the church was built on this site because there was already a Pharaonic Temple and a Jewish Synagogue at the site. What better place than to have them all together. This was their thinking back then. Mari Gergis church is also known as the “hanging church” because it literally hangs over the two ancient temples – Pharaonic and Jewish.
The church is under renovation so we didn’t actually get the chance to go inside. We went into the dungeon where Saint George was tortured and held by the Romans. They story goes that a virgin from the community was fed to a dragon every year until one year the mother of the virgin next in line prayed to St. George and asked that he intercede. He did. He slayed the dragon and the girl was spared as well as all the other girls for years to come. There are plenty of icons of St. George slaying the dragon hanging on the walls of the dungeon and in the small adjacent chapel. The instruments of torture used on St. George by the Romans are also on display. You can even put the “original” chain which enveloped St. George around your neck.
Next to the church is a cute little gift store where a young Egyptian Coptic woman named Basma (Smile in Arabic) sells everything from Pharaonic to Christian and Muslim souvenirs. Basma is very smiley and kind and bored because we were the only ones in the vicinity.
Tourism is all but dead in Egypt, thanks in part to CNN who has covered Egypt with enormous bias for the past 2.5 years. CNN has shown Egypt up in flames pretty much every time they cover Egypt, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
We stopped to look at photos in a small shop and that is when Konstantin disappeared. He had gone to find a trash can and poof he was gone. Samia and I panicked and began scouring the street looking for him and calling his name. During this panic I noticed Margaret Warner the anchor of the Mac Neil News Hour on PBS in the US. She was standing on the side walk with a couple security men and her crew. I recognized her right away but continued looking for Konstantin. He is my priority. When I found him I scolded him for disappearing and we walked back to the entrance. I introduced myself to Margaret. Samia joined us and we had a short discussion about Egypt and the Copts. Samia let her know that we are all Egyptians and that our identity is firstly Egyptian and not by religion. Samia feels very strongly about that and came off as such.
Margaret and the crew were having trouble getting permission to enter the area and film. Samia went over and talked to the guards at the entrance. She told them the crew were with PBS and not CNN. This seemed to do the trick and they were allowed to enter right away.
I spoke to Margaret’s cinematographer and told him how angry we Egyptians are at CNN. We call it CN-Zift which translates to CN-Shit. I told him of my experience being in Tahrir Square often with 500 thousand peaceful people making music, eating sweets and listening to each other. I told him how CNN rarely covered the peaceful demonstrators in the square and instead went around the corner to a side street where 3 dozen boys were paid to start small fires and throw Molotov cocktails and make noise. I was in the square, saw the boys on the side street and saw the CNN coverage that followed. It was always distorted and biased. The anger we feel towards CNN, as Egyptians, grew each time we saw their biased coverage which persisted until this day.
The cinematographer a strapping handsome man with tats up and down his arms, perhaps an Australian accent, not quite sure, told me “I am not surprised. When you are behind the camera, it is easy to make a small commotion look like a huge violent affair. Listen, it all comes down to money. When the network spends $50,000 to send a crew to cover a story in Egypt, they want some action. They don’t care home many peaceful demonstrators there are, that’s not action.”
“Do you realize that this kind of coverage by CNN has destroyed our country. Everyone all over the world has the impression that there is chaos and violence everywhere in Egypt. People are afraid to come and you can see for yourself that it is not true. It is safe and peaceful almost everywhere,” I said.
He was a nice man. He got it. He understood and he seemed genuinely sorry about the plight of Egypt.
Then Samia told him how, when we took to the streets in the tens of millions on June 30th CNN hardly bothered to cover our ongoing revolution. Why? Because it is not what the US administration was supporting. The US administration has been supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and CNN might as well be state-owned-media because CNN walks the line of government policy, not bothering to tell the story of the masses of Egyptian people.
I gave Margaret my name and phone number and invited her to call if she needed any help or connections while she was here in Egypt. She has several stories to cover and file back to NYC. It would be nice if she does call. Hopefully she will connect with the vast array of Egyptians who love their country with such passion and are crying buckets for their beloved Egypt.
I would like her to meet the singer Mohamed Munir and show his latest video that depicts the enormous variety of Egyptians all sitting together on a boat. Mohamed’s video captures what we all want for Egypt; the kind of cohabitation and tolerance for all people that is at the center of Egyptian culture and character for 7000 years. We are people who embrace and love the “other.” We are people who have welcomed visitors from every corner of the Earth with open arms, open hearts and minds, with the best of hospitality and food and kindness. We are people that learned all the languages of the world in order to welcome our visitors warmly.
We are a people who are the salt of the Earth and our country is the Mother of the Earth – OM IL DONYA. This is who Egypt has always been and will always be. And that is why we passionately reject any group amongst us that want to divide us. We will not be divided. We are Egyptians. We are Nubian, Berber, Bedouin, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Secular, Young and Old, Rich and Poor, Salafi, Sunni, Shiite, Catholic, Protestant, Coptic. We are dark and we are light skinned. We are fat and thin and tall and short. We have brown and blue and green eyes and some of us even have two different colored eyes like David Bowie. And many of us are blind and handicapped in other ways, but we are all ONE. WE ARE ALL EGYPTIANS and we will not be divided.
God bless and keep the Egyptian people and our beloved land and country safe from those who would divide us.