How Egypt’s Coptic Christians put down roots around the world, but remained grounded in their culture

Special How Egypt’s Coptic Christians put down roots around the world, but remained grounded in their culture
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Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi joins Coptic Pope Tawadros II during a Christmas Eve Mass at the Nativity of Christ Cathedral outside Cairo. (AFP)
Special How Egypt’s Coptic Christians put down roots around the world, but remained grounded in their culture
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Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi joins Coptic Pope Tawadros II during a Christmas Eve Mass at the Nativity of Christ Cathedral outside Cairo. (AFP)
Special How Egypt’s Coptic Christians put down roots around the world, but remained grounded in their culture
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Relatives pray and mourn over the remains of 20 Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Christian men who were beheaded by Daesh extremists in Libyan in 2015 and repatriated to Egypt in May 2015. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 02 June 2022

How Egypt’s Coptic Christians put down roots around the world, but remained grounded in their culture

How Egypt’s Coptic Christians put down roots around the world, but remained grounded in their culture
  • After decades of oppression and adversity, Copts — the ‘original Egyptians’ — are finding hope in Egypt’s ‘new republic’
  • Those raised overseas, like British-born Egyptian artist and iconographer Fadi Mikhail, have remained true to their roots

LONDON: Coptic Christians in Egypt and in scattered migrant communities across the world celebrated on Wednesday the "Entry of the Lord into Egypt,” an annual feast day. That celebration is followed by The Holy Feast of Ascension, commemorating the Christian belief in Christ’s bodily ascension into heaven.

In a sense, the two consecutive feast days bookend the Coptic experience. The one marks their deep-rooted pride in an Egyptian heritage that predates the arrival of Islam, while the other celebrates the spiritual value of self-sacrifice, which would come to define the experience of a church forged in martyrdom soon after Christ’s death on the cross.

Interior details of Saint George Church in Coptic Cairo, Egypt. (Shutterstock)

Back in April, Egypt’s Christians celebrated two other consecutive special days.

Orthodox Easter fell on April 24, a date set by the Julian calendar under which the Church of Alexandria operates, rather than the Gregorian calendar used by the rest of Christianity, with which the Copts parted ways over theological differences in the fifth century.

But the following day, together with Egyptians of all faiths, Copts celebrated the national holiday of Sham Ennessim. The origins of this festival of spring date back millennia to the days of the pharaohs and, like the Copts themselves, survived the Arabization of Egypt in the seventh century to become an integral part of Egyptian society.

Around the world are many Copts, some now second or even third generation, who were born on foreign soil after their parents emigrated in search of a better life, yet who also remain rooted in Egypt and its culture.

The life and work of Fadi Mikhail, a successful artist in the UK, symbolizes the generations who were born overseas to immigrant parents, but maintain strong ties to their Egyptian and Coptic heritage.

Mikhail’s parents, Hany and Salwa, emigrated from Egypt in the late 1970s, his father pursuing his career as a doctor in the UK. “The promise of higher pay and a better life called to him,” said Mikhail.

 British-born Coptic artist Fadi Mikhail trained in Los Angeles under the renowned Egyptian iconographer Isaac Fanous. (Supplied)

Born in Harlow, England, in 1984, Mikhail studied in Los Angeles under the renowned Egyptian iconographer Isaac Fanous before graduating from the Slade School of Fine Art in London.

Today, he produces icons for Coptic churches around the world, but his art is a visual bridge between East and West — he has a parallel career as a painter in the Western tradition, working in oils to produce landscapes, or drawing inspiration from books he enjoyed as a child.

His work is showcased by British galleries and has led to commissions for notable patrons, including the Prince of Wales.

Mikhail and his wife return to Egypt only for the occasional annual vacation. But, like most Copts scattered around the world, he says that “through the church I do still feel strongly connected to the Coptic faith and, by extension, Egypt.”

His interest in iconography “certainly began as a religious connection but has more recently become equally a part of my identity as an Egyptian.”

One of Fadi Mikhail’s oil paintings, ‘The Swallows Chasing the Amazons.’ (Supplied)

His parents’ generation, he said, “were particularly strong as a community, having banded together as recent immigrants, wanting to retain as much Egyptian culture as possible. Faith was an intrinsic part of this.”

He concedes that, “now in our second and third generation, the Coptic community in the UK is certainly experiencing some challenges of identity and the struggle to feel or appear as unwavering in our ‘Egyptianness’ as our parents.

“Practising one’s faith in a church in the West, where Western thought is certainly more liberal, while remaining in communion with the Eastern church, which is considerably more conservative, is difficult.

“However, I believe we have been very lucky with the wisdom of our leadership here in the UK, and to date I believe the waters have been wisely and deftly navigated.”

The Glaubenskirche in Berlin, Germany, a former Lutheran church, has been owned since 1998 by the Coptic Church, and it is being developed into a Coptic bishop's residence. (Shutterstock)

Wherever emigrating Copts have put down roots, their communities and their church have flourished. In addition to the estimated 15 million Copts in Egypt — some 10 percent of the population — there are now thought to be more than 2 million living abroad, chiefly in the US, Canada, Australia and Europe, where they make up mainly a wealthy and educated immigrant class of professionals, such as doctors or engineers.

The first Coptic parish in North America, St. Mark’s, was established in Toronto in 1964. It was followed shortly afterwards by the parish of St. Mark’s in New Jersey, which was founded in the late 1960s and saw the building of the first Coptic church in the West.

But one of the oldest Coptic communities abroad was founded in the 1950s in the UK, where the first Coptic liturgy in Europe was conducted in London on Aug. 10, 1954. The community was founded largely by Copts who studied medicine and moved to Britain to pursue their careers free of the glass ceilings that held them back in Egypt.

Queen Elizabeth II meets Pope Tawadros II and Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Church during a private audience at Windsor Castle on May 9, 2017 in Windsor, UK. (Getty Images)

In 1978, the Coptic pope, Shenouda III, traveled from Egypt to the UK to consecrate St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church in Kensington, London, the first Coptic Orthodox Church in Europe.

Since then, the church in the UK has gone from strength, with in excess of 20,000 faithful across 32 parishes. In 2002 Shenouda returned to lay the foundation stone for the Cathedral of St. George, which was inaugurated in the Hertfordshire town of Stevenage, England, in 2006.

The head of the church in the UK is Archbishop Anba Angaelos, whose personal story of migration in many ways echoes that of so many Copts.

Born in Cairo in 1967, as a child he emigrated with his family to Australia. There he obtained a degree in political science, philosophy and sociology and, after postgraduate studies in law, returned to Egypt in 1990, where he became a monk and joined the historic monastery of St. Bishoy in Wadi El-Natrun. 

A view of Egypt's historic monastery of Saint Bishoy in Wadi El-Natrun, Cairo. (Shutterstock)

In 1995, he was sent to the UK as a parish priest. Four years later, he was made a general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church and on Nov. 18, 2017 was enthroned as the first Coptic Orthodox archbishop of London.

Icons in St. George Cathedral were painted by Fadi Mikhail in the modern Coptic style championed by his teacher Isaac Fanous.

The Copts who live abroad, said Angaelos, “don’t look at ourselves as a diaspora community, one that has faced persecution and has dispersed. We are a migrant community, people who have gone to find a better life for themselves and for their children and who still maintain links with Egypt.”

Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II (L) leads the Easter mass at St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt on April 11, 2015. (Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Egypt’s Coptic Christians can justifiably claim to be the original Egyptians, guardians of a language once spoken by the pharaohs and keepers of a faith forged in adversity.

“We are an indigenous people,” said Angaelos. “I can trace my heritage as a Christian back to St. Mark, who established Christianity in Egypt, and even further back to my ancient Egyptian roots.”

According to scripture, Mary and Joseph sought refuge in Egypt with the infant Jesus to escape the massacre of all male children aged 2 or under in Bethlehem ordered by King Herod.

A generation later, it was in the ancient Egyptian city of Alexandria that Mark the Evangelist founded the church that would become one of the five great episcopal sees of early Christendom, alongside Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Rome.

Coptic patriarch and priests celebrate mass on Orthodox Good Friday, in the Holy Sepulchre church of Jerusalem Old City, on April 30, 2021. (Shutterstock)

Copts have not always felt welcome in Egypt. Under Roman rule, Christians throughout the empire suffered persecution for centuries. St. Mark himself was murdered and martyred by a pagan mob in the streets of Alexandria in A.D. 68, and hundreds of Christians died in Egypt during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian.

Such was the impact of what became known as the Diocletianic persecution that the years of the liturgical calendar used by the Coptic Orthodox Church are counted from A.D. 284, the beginning of Diocletian’s reign. For the Copts, years are labelled not A.D. (Anno Domini, “the year of our Lord”), but A.M. — Anno Martyrum, “Year of the Martyrs.”

With the rise of Islam in the seventh century, the Copts faced new challenges to their faith and their ancient language, a direct linguistical descendant from the ancient Egyptian tongue. As many Copts converted to Islam, in part to avoid the increasingly onerous taxes imposed on non-Muslims, use of the language was steadily eroded and now survives only in the monasteries and liturgies of the Coptic Church.

Muslim cleric Sheikh Mohamed Goma (C-L) congratulates Pope Tawadros II during his enthronement ceremony as leader of Egypt's Coptic Christian church in Cairo on Nov. 18, 2012. Christians and Muslims lived side by side in harmony in Egypt through times of great unrest and periods. (AFP)

All these obstacles the Copts navigated stoically for many centuries, through times of great unrest and periods during which Christians and Muslims lived side by side in harmony in Egypt.

In the 20th century, however, a series of social, economic and political upheavals — aggravated by Britain’s divide-and-rule policies in Egypt and leading ultimately to the “Free Officers” coup of 1952 and President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s pan-Arab reforms — saw the start of a steady trickle of Copts emigrating in the hope of finding a better life in the West.

Even before the revolution, “Copts were being slowly pushed out of Egyptian politics,” said Michael Akladios, founder and director of Egypt Migrations, a Coptic cultural and archival project set up in Canada in 2016 to preserve the stories of Egypt’s migrants.

“Immediately following the revolution, graduate Copts began to emigrate, going to the UK, Canada and the US, because they were hitting ceilings within the schools and professions.”

A view of Saint Simon the Tanner Monastery, an old Coptic church in Cairo, Egypt. (Shutterstock)

Akladios said it was a mistake to characterize all Coptic emigration from Egypt as the product of fear or persecution. His own family emigrated to Canada when he was 8, joining his father’s siblings who had already settled in Toronto, and the move was “economically motivated.”

“Yes, persecution is an element,” he said. “But the Copts are more than their churches; they’re also human beings with needs and families, and they make decisions as pragmatic migrants just like anybody else.”

For Copts in Egypt today, said Archbishop Angaelos, “there are still challenges. But one of the most important things for Copts, in Egypt and abroad, is that over the past decade we have seen a much greater, harmonious existence between Christians and Muslims.”

One man is the flag-bearer for the new spirit of interfaith harmony abroad in Egypt – Gen. Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who was elected president in 2014 and has been responsible for a series of gestures of inclusive non-sectarianism.

Daesh terrorists lead blindfolded Egyptian Coptic Christians, wearing orange jumpsuits, to be beheaded on a seashore in the Libyan capital of Tripoli in 2015. (AFP file photo)

When 20 migrant Coptic Egyptian workers and a Ghanaian colleague were beheaded on a beach in Libya by terrorists in February 2015, it was El-Sisi who sent the Egyptian Air Force to exact revenge on Daesh.

When a series of attacks against Copts and Coptic churches was unleashed in 2017, claiming dozens of lives, the wave of terror was crushed by an overwhelming response by the Egyptian army.

In 2018, El-Sisi’s government paved the way for the return of the Libyan martyrs’ bodies to Egypt. In the village of Al-Aour in Upper Egypt, where many of the men had lived, they were laid to rest in the newly built Church of the Martyrs of Faith and Homeland, the construction of which had been funded by the Egyptian government.

And Copts everywhere were delighted when El-Sisi joined Coptic Pope Tawadros for Christmas Mass in the Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ in Egypt’s New Administrative Capital on Jan. 6 this year. In a speech, El-Sisi spoke of a “new republic” in Egypt “that accommodates everyone without discrimination.”

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi (R) speaking alongside Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria during a Coptic Orthodox Christmas Eve mass at the Nativity of Christ Cathedral near Cairo on January 6, 2022. (AFP)

As if to underline the point, just over a month later the first Coptic Christian was appointed head of Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court, the highest judicial authority in the country.

For Michael Akladios, and for the Coptic community in Egypt and the wider world, the appointment of Judge Boulos Fahmy Eskandar on Feb. 9, 2022, was “a promising step on the road to greater Coptic inclusion and representation in Egypt’s public sphere.”

Although it was “still too early to judge what ramifications this appointment will have for Coptic communities in Egypt and across its diasporas,” it was nevertheless “symbolic of the state’s continued big gestures for cementing national unity as a prevailing feature of the character of the nation.”


The Coptic miracle
How Egypt's historic Christian church survived and thrived





Egypt releases new batch of 39 pretrial detainees: Presidential Pardon Committee  

Egypt releases new batch of 39 pretrial detainees: Presidential Pardon Committee  
Updated 10 sec ago

Egypt releases new batch of 39 pretrial detainees: Presidential Pardon Committee  

Egypt releases new batch of 39 pretrial detainees: Presidential Pardon Committee  
  • MP Tarek El-Khouly said the move was in cooperation with state authorities and the country’s Public Prosecution

DUBAI: Egypt has ordered the release of 39 pretrial detainees on Monday. 
MP Tarek El-Khouly, a member of the Presidential Pardon Committee, said the move was in cooperation with state authorities and the country’s Public Prosecution. 
Egypt’s Public Prosecution has ordered the release of hundreds of pretrial detainees in groups since May. 
This comes as the government and various political forces prepare for extensive national political dialogue that will focus on political, economic, and social issues. 
Since its inception in 2016, the committee has received the names of prisoners eligible for presidential pardon consideration from different parties and political forces, including the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), the parliament’s Human Rights Committee, as well as directly through its own official website.

Renewed militia clashes rock western Libya; 5 killed

Renewed militia clashes rock western Libya; 5 killed
Updated 1 min 21 sec ago

Renewed militia clashes rock western Libya; 5 killed

Renewed militia clashes rock western Libya; 5 killed
  • Along with the five who were killed, at least 13 other civilians were wounded

CAIRO: A new round of infighting between rogue militias in western Libya has killed at least five people, including a 10-year-old girl, health authorities said Monday, the latest bout of violence to rock the North African nation mired in decadelong chaos.
The fighting broke out on Sunday between rival militias in the western town of Zawiya, where armed groups — like in many other towns and cities in oil-rich Libya — are competing for influence.
Along with the five who were killed, at least 13 other civilians were wounded in the clashes that continued overnight, the Health Ministry’s emergency services said.
The fighting trapped dozens of families living in the area for hours, said Malek Merset, a spokesman for the emergency services. Local media reported that one militia fired at a member of its rivals, wounding a militiaman who was taken to hospital.
The violence was the latest between militias in western Libya. In August, clashes in the capital of Tripoli killed more than 30 people, one of the deadliest bouts of fighting in Libya in many months.
Libya was plunged into chaos after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. The oil-rich county has for years been split between rival administrations, each backed by rogue militias and foreign governments.
Libya is now split between two rival administrations. One is that of the government of Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah in Tripoli who refused to step down after Libya failed to hold elections last year. A second administration is led Prime Minister Fathy Bashagha who operates from the eastern city of Benghazi after failed efforts to install his government in the capital.

UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed to visit Oman

UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed to visit Oman
Updated 26 September 2022

UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed to visit Oman

UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed to visit Oman
  • Reinforcing economic relations will be at the center of the visit

DUBAI: UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan will visit Oman on Tuesday in his second state visit since assuming presidency in May.

The two-day visit comes in response to the invitation of Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq, according to Emirates News Agency (WAM).

During the visit, both leaders will meet to explore opportunities for increased collaboration in several sectors including finance and industry, as well as review ways to empower youth for a better future for the two countries.  

Reinforcing economic relations will be at the center of the visit, said WAM.

Both leaders will review the recent developments in the Arab region and reflect on efforts made to achieve peace and prosperity.

“The visit will also cement the two nations’ shared vision for a secure and stable region that promotes sustainable development and supports a thriving economy,” read the WAM statement.

In a statement, Sayyid Ahmed Hilal Al Busaidi, Ambassador of Oman to the UAE, said the visit would strengthen business partnerships and increase investment opportunities.

He said the longstanding keenness of both countries to deepen relations have spurred growth in various fields, which can reflect positively on the wider region.

Al Busaidi also highlighted the significance of bilateral coordination at the political level through coordination and consultation about various regional and international issues.

Tunisians protest against poverty, high prices and food shortages

Tunisians protest against poverty, high prices and food shortages
Updated 26 September 2022

Tunisians protest against poverty, high prices and food shortages

Tunisians protest against poverty, high prices and food shortages
  • Tunisia seeks to secure an IMF loan to save public finances from collapse

TUNIS: Hundreds of Tunisians protested on Sunday night in a poor neighborhood in the capital against poverty, high prices and the shortage of some foodstuff, escalating pressure on the government of President Kais Saied, as the country suffers an economic and political crisis.
Tunisia is struggling to revive its public finances as discontent grows over inflation running at nearly 9 percent and a shortage of many food items in stores because the country cannot afford to pay for some imports.
The North African nation is also in the midst of a severe political crisis since Saied seized control of the executive power last year and dissolved parliament in a move his opponents called a coup.
In the poor Douar Hicher district in the capital, some protesters lifted loaves of bread in the air. Other chanted, “Where is Kais Saied?.” Angry youths burned wheels.
Protesters chanted “Jobs, freedom and national dignity,” and “We can’t support crazy price hikes,” “Where is sugar?.”
Food shortages are worsening in Tunisia with empty shelves in supermarkets and bakeries, adding to popular discontent at high prices of many Tunisians who spend hours searching for sugar, milk, butter, cooking oil and rice.
Videos on social media showed on Sunday dozens of customers scrambling to win a kilogram of sugar in market.
Tunisia, which is suffering its worst financial crisis, is seeking to secure an International Monetary Fund loan to save public finances from collapse.
The government raised this month the price of cooking gas cylinders by 14 percent for the first time in 12 years. It also raised fuel prices for the fourth time this year as part of a plan to reduce energy subsidies, a policy change sought by the IMF.

Mahsa Amini’s death in Iranian police custody has lit a spark in a nation seething with anger and discontent

Mahsa Amini’s death in Iranian police custody has lit a spark in a nation seething with anger and discontent
Updated 25 min 57 sec ago

Mahsa Amini’s death in Iranian police custody has lit a spark in a nation seething with anger and discontent

Mahsa Amini’s death in Iranian police custody has lit a spark in a nation seething with anger and discontent
  • At least 41 people have died since protests erupted over the death of the 22-year-old 
  • Amini was arrested by morality police for allegedly violating the regime’s strict dress code 

DUBAI: Protests have spread to almost all of Iran’s 31 provinces and urban cities since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini at the hands of the morality police. On Sept. 13, Amini was arrested by a morality police (Gasht-e Ershad) patrol in a Tehran metro station, allegedly for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code.

She was hospitalized after the arrest, fell into a coma and died three days later. Iranian authorities maintain that she died of a heart attack. Her family says that she had no pre-existing heart conditions.

Her death has sparked outrage in a country seething with anger over a long list of grievances and a wide range of socio-economic concerns.

Iranian women, fed up with the morality police’s heavy-handed approach, have been posting videos of themselves online cutting locks of their hair in support of Amini. Protesters who have taken to the streets have been chanting “Death to the moral police” and “Women, life, freedom.”

In acts of defiance, female demonstrators can be seen taking off their headscarves, burning them and dancing in the streets. State police have been cracking down on the protesters by attacking them with tear gas while volunteers from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have been beating them. At least 41 people have died so far.

“The internet in Tehran has been cut off. I have not been able to reach family members, but every now and then they are able to get a message through,” an Iranian man who fled to the US during the days of the Islamic Revolution, told Arab News.

Mehdi, who did not want to give his full name, added: “We are hopeful that the government will offer concessions this time. It has been the biggest demonstration since the revolution. We take pride in what is happening in Iran.”

Writing in The Washington Post, Karim Sajdadpour, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, described the protests against the killing of Amin as “led by the nation’s granddaughters against the grandfathers who have ruled their country for over four decades.”

Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Sharia laws in the country require women to wear headscarves and loose garb in public. Those who do not abide by the code are fined or jailed.

Iranian authorities’ campaign to make women dress modestly and against the wearing of mandatory clothing “incorrectly” began soon after the revolution, which ended an era of unfettered sartorial freedom for women under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. During the shah’s rule, his wife Farah, who often wore Western clothing, was held up as a model of a modern woman.

The image of protesters destroying portraits of Iranian leaders in the northern city of Sari is just one of many emerging from Iran over the past week in a symbol of anti-regime sentiment. (AFP) 

By 1981, women were not allowed to show their arms in public. In 1983, Iran’s parliament decided that women who did not cover their hair in public could be punished with 74 lashes. In recent times, it added the punishment of up to 60 days in prison.

Restrictions kept evolving, and the extent of enforcement of the female dress code has varied since 1979, depending on which president was in office. The Gasht-e Ershad was formed to enforce dress codes after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the ultraconservative mayor of Tehran, became president in 2005.

The restrictions were eased a little under the presidency of Hassan Rouhani, who was considered a relative moderate. After Rouhani accused the morality police of being aggressive, the head of the force declared in 2017 women violating the modesty code would no longer be arrested.

However, the rule of President Ebrahim Raisi appears to have emboldened the morality police once again. In August, Raisi signed a decree for stricter enforcement of rules that require women to wear hijabs at all times in public.

In his speech at the UN General Assembly last week, Raisi tried to deflect blame for the protests in Iran by pointing to Canada’s treatment of indigenous people and accused the West of applying double standards when it comes to human rights.

When I look at how the women are standing up to the vicious regime that never shied away from genocide, it gives me goosebumps.

Mehdi, who fled to the US during the Islamic Revolution

Raisi’s government, meanwhile, is seeking some form of guarantee whereby the lifting of severe sanctions and resumed business activities by Western firms cannot be disrupted if a future US president rescinds the 2015 nuclear deal. Iranian officials also dispute the concerns of the International Atomic Energy Agency about illicit nuclear material found at three sites and want the IAEA’s investigation to close.

Be that as it may, anti-government protests in Iran are not new. In 2009, the Green Movement held protests over election results believed to be fraudulent. In 2019, there were demonstrations over a spike in fuel prices and deteriorating standard of living conditions and basic needs.

This year’s protests are different in that they are feminist in nature. Firuzeh Mahmoudi, executive director of United for Iran, a human rights NGO, said it is unprecedented for the country to see women taking off their hijabs en masse, burning police cars and tearing down pictures of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (the country’s supreme leader).

It is also unprecedented to see men chant “We’ll support our sisters and women, life, liberty.”

“Through social media, mobile apps, blogs and websites, Iranian women are actively participating in public discourse and exercising their civil rights,” Mahmoudi said. “Luckily for the growing women’s rights movements, the patriarchal and misogynistic government has not yet figured out how to completely censor and control the internet.”

Protests against the death of Mahsa Amini have erupted across Iran, and among the diaspora living around the world. (AFP)

Masih Alinejad, an Iranian political activist who has been living in exile in America since 2009, said that she has been receiving many messages from women in Iran. They have been sharing with her their frustrations, videos of the protests, and their goodbyes to their parents, which they believe might be for the last time.

Declaring that she can feel their anger through their messages, Alinejad said the hijab is a way for the government to control women and therefore society, adding that “their hair and their identity have been taken hostage.”

Scores of Iranian male celebrities have also voiced their support of the protests and women. Toomaj Salehi, a dissident rapper who was arrested earlier this year because of his lyrics on regime change and social and political issues, posted a video of himself walking through the streets saying: “My tears don’t dry, it’s blood, it’s anger. The end is near, history repeats itself. Be afraid of us, pull back, know that you are done.”

For its part, the movie industry released a statement on Saturday calling on the military to drop their weapons and “return to the arms of the nation.”

A number of famous actresses have taken off their hijab in support of the movement and the protests. Mohammad Mehdi Esmaili, Iran’s culture minister, said that actresses who voiced their support online and removed their hijabs can no longer pursue their careers.

In a tweet on Saturday, Sajdadpour said: “To understand Iran’s protests it’s striking to juxtapose images of the young, modern women killed in Iran over the last week (Mahsa Amini, Ghazale Chelavi, Hanane Kia, Mahsa Mogoi) with the images of the country’s ruling elite, virtually all deeply traditional, geriatric men.”

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi holds up a photo of Quds Force Commander General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. attack, during his remarks at the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly. (AFP)

Iranian authorities have shut down mobile internet connections, disrupting WhatsApp and Instagram services. On Iranian state media, ISNA, Issa Zarepour, minister of communications, justified the act for “national security” and said it was not clear how long the blocks on social media platforms and WhatsApp would continue, as it was being implemented for “security purposes and discussions related to recent events.”

However, Mahsa Alimardani, an academic at the Oxford Internet Institute who studies Iran’s internet shutdowns and controls, said the authorities are targeting these platforms because they are “lifelines for information and communication that’s keeping the protests alive.”

On Twitter, the hashtag #MahsaAmini in Farsi has exceeded well over 30 million posts.

“Everyone in Iran knows that the authorities will crack down very hard on the protesters and kill them,” Mehdi, the US-based Iranian, told Arab News.

“It’s almost target practice for them. When I look at how the women there are standing up to the ruthless and vicious regime that never shied away from genocide to maintain their power, it gives me goose bumps. It takes a certain courage to do what they are doing.”

Looking forward to the future with hope, he said: “The flame has been ignited and we are not the kind of people who back out.”