Attack in Qena Province, Upper Egypt
On 20 January, a mob attack was carried out on the Coptic community in Rahmaniya-Kebly village in Qena Province, Upper Egypt, in which homes, huts and shops were destroyed, allegedly in the presence of the security forces. Coptic residents, who make up half of the local population, claimed the violence was provoked by Salafis who successfully prevented them from voting in the parliamentary elections.
On 20 January, a group of 150 Salafis and Muslim Brotherhood surrounded Abu Makkar church in Shubra-el-Kheima neighbourhood of Cairo protesting that the church should be closed because it had no licence, and was suitable for use as a mosque and hospital. The church had obtained a licence from the authorites to remove a violating building that falls between the service building of the church and the neighbours, but as the removal was being implemented under the supervision of the police the protestors besieged the church. A church representative said that his had happened before and they reported the incident to the attorney general and notified the officials, “but when it happens again everyone is silent about it.”
An Egyptian court ruled on 25 January that a Coptic minor from Saft-el-Khamar village, who had been missing for over 40 days, should remain in a state-owned care home until she turns 18, instead of being returned to her parents. The prosecutor, who was allegedly backed by twelve Salafi lawyers, contended that 16 year old Amira Gamal Saber, who disappeared after a school lesson, had expressed a desire to convert to Islam. In a comment to AINA (Assyrian International News Agency), Coptic activist Dr. Oliver stated that the prosecutor had effectively “legitimized child abduction and detention”.
On 26 January, two Copts, a father and son, were shot dead in the Bahgourah suburb of Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt for refusing to pay extortion money to a local gang. Four days earlier, the gang’s leader, Ahmed Saber, had demanded a large sum of protection money from Moawad Assad Samaan, a contractor, who refused to oblige. He and his son, Assad Moawad, were subsequently cut down by machine gun fire, prompting a protest from thousands of Copts outside the government building in Nag Hammadi, demanding protection for the Coptic community. Moawa’s second son, Paulos, survived the attack. According to Bishop Kyrollos of Nag Hammadi, Ahmed Saber had been extorting money from members of the Coptic community since last year, was well known to the police, and had kidnapped several children for ransom. “Police have received numerous complaints about these crimes. I do not understand why they have not arrested him.”
On 28 January, a mob several thousand strong attacked Copts in the village of Kobry-el-Sharbat in Alexandria. The mob looted Coptic homes and churches before setting them on fire. The violence was triggered by an unsubstantiated rumour that a Coptic man, Mourad Samy Guirgis, had an intimate picture of a Muslim woman on his mobile phone. Mr. Guirgis’ home was amongst those torched, and he surrendered himself to the police to ensure his own protection. According to Ramy Kamel, a Human Rights activist, Mahmoud Tema spread the rumours after unsuccessfully trying to extort money from Guirgis. Others who lost their homes are reported to have left the village. According to a local priest, the security forces were called, but arrived very late, made no arrests, and instead begged the mob to return to their homes. In addition, the fire brigade was prevented from entering the village until the fires had burned themselves out. Two Coptic men and a Muslim man were injured in the violence. Radical Muslims called for all 62 Coptic families to be evicted from the village. A Muslim tribunal on 1 February called for the eviction of eight Coptic families from the village. The decree was later overturned by a Parliamentary Commission, composed of two Copts, two liberals, and Salafi members of Parliament. According to Sheikh Sheriff Hawary, who was responsible for the tribunal, Mourad Guirgis’ family would not return.
In a significant development on 26 January, prominent Egyptian blogger and political activist Mahmoud Salem, also known as “Sandmonkey” after his blog entitled “The Rantings of a Sandmonkey”, filed a law suit against the influential Salafi preacher Yasser al-Bourhami for inciting violence against Coptic Christians. Had it been successful, the case would have constituted a significant advance in efforts to combat impunity, discrimination and religious intolerance. However, the Free Egyptians Party (FEP), headed by Salem, made it clear that they did not expect any follow-up on the case, due to complicity between Muslim extremists and state institutions. The case was dismissed.
In the latest development of a December 2011 case, a prosecutor in Assiut called for a Coptic student to be held for fifteen days for allegedly posting offensive images of Prophet Mohammed on-line. The student denied the allegations, and claimed that the pictures had been shared on his Facebook page without his knowledge. A meeting of Muslims, Copts, Islamist MPs and the governor of Assiut called for the student and his family to move out of the area, and for priests to publicly apologise for the images. According to an AINA news report, the studen’s family moved out of the area while he was incarcerated, and Muslim students burned three Coptic houses in Baheeg, a village in Assiut. According to Al-Masry Al-Youm (Egypt Independent), at least six Coptic houses were set on fire after the incident was publicized.
In another worrying development relating to the Maspero Massacre, Father Matthias Nasr Manqarious of Ezbet el-Nakhl and Father Filopateer Gamel of Giza appeared before a court on 9 February on several charges relating to the events of October 2011, including causing the death of a military soldier, possession of weapons, use of force against the military, attempting to storm the Maspero TV building, and incitement to violence. Father Nasr claims that this is another instance of the victims becoming the accused, “while the real perpetrators are ruling the country and continuing with their crimes against the Egyptian people and peaceful demonstrators everywhere”. Father Gameel had submitted evidence against several high ranking officials, accusing them of being responsible for the Maspero Massacre, but received a response from the judge that due to their position as high ranking military officials they can only be tried by a military court. Coptic attorney Dr. Naguib Gabriel, a notable Human Rights lawyer, and the head of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organisation, was due to appear before prosecutors on 11 February, also in connection with the Maspero Massacre. The three have been prevented from leaving the country.
On 15 February, a mob of several thousand, mainly Salafi Muslims, attempted to break into and torch the Church of St Mary and St Abram in Meet Bashar, Zagazig, Sharqia Province. A Coptic home nearby was torched, as were three cars. The crowd were demanding the return of Rania Khalil Ibrahim, 15, a Coptic-born girl who had converted to Islam after her Muslim convert father had taken custody of her. After her father arranged for her to marry a Muslim man, she went to live with her Coptic mother. A Coptic member of Parliament spoke to Prime Minister El-Ganzoury, who ordered reinforcements to the area. They dispersed the crowd and agreed to stay in the town for two weeks. A mob of 2000 had gathered on 14 February throwing rocks at the home of Reverend Guirgis Gamel, pastor of the church. They returned in greater numbers after hearing that Rania refused to return to live with her father.
Egyptian police are reported to have forcibly prevented a group of Coptic protesters from reaching the Egyptian Parliament building on 13 February. The group was protesting against the eviction of eight Coptic families from their homes in Alexandria. The protest was staged after a message submitted by Coptic parliamentarian Dr Emal Gad to the Parliament Speaker was felt to have been ignored.
In worrying developments, Rev. Makarios Bolous, pastor of St Georg’s Church in Aswan Province, was sentenced to six months prison and fined £300 for violations of the height of St Georg’s church on 6 March 2012. The court also ordered the removal of the excessive height. St Georg’s was the location of the torching which led to the Maspero violence of October 2011, during which 28, mostly Coptic Christians, were killed when the military opened fire and ran over protesters following peaceful demonstrations. Since this attack on the community not one member of the armed forces has yet to be convicted. Since St Georg’s was destroyed more than four months previously it had yet to be rebuilt, despite the Head of Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Field Marshal Tantawi, ordering the Governor of Aswan to rebuild the church at the expense of the government. As it stands, church members are not permitted to pray, worship or go near the site by order of the authorities.
According to an unconfirmed Bikya Masr report, a course designed to educate youth about Islam and teach them how to respond to attempted conversion will be taught in Aswan, Southern Egypt. According to coordinator Ibrahim al-Etmany, the course was proposed in response to alleged attempts to convert Muslims to Christianity. Ibrahim declares himself to be for “civil and enlightened dialogue between the two religions”, but against “confrontations and provocative talk”.
According to a Compass Direct News report, on 4 March, a mob of 1,500 Muslim villagers, brandishing weapons that included swords and knives, surrounded the guesthouse of the privately run Notre Dame Language School in the village of Abu Al-Reesh in Aswan Province, threatening to burn two nuns who were trapped outside. The nuns had been accused of building a church on the site of the school. The mob returned the next day, resulting in attendance at the school dropping by a third. The two nuns suffered cuts and bruises after being trapped in the building for over eight hours and were taken to a Catholic Church in Aswan immediately after their ordeal. It is understood that one of the nuns was hospitalised in Cairo after suffering a major nervous breakdown. Magdy Melad, the schools‟ governor, refused demands that he sign over deeds to land including the guesthouse which was attacked.
In the latest in a string of “defamation of religion” cases, an Egyptian Christian is appealing a sentence of six years in prison for “insulting the Prophet”. The judge was accused of ruling to appease a large mob that had gathered outside the court to demand the death penalty for Makram Diab Said, the defendant. Dia’s lawyer, Ahmad Sayed Gabali, reported that 80 Islamist lawyers filled the court, preventing him from representing his client. The mob protested that no Muslim can defend a Christian, but when Coptic lawyers volunteered, they too were denied entry. Human rights groups were also forced to leave the courtroom. Diab, a school secretary, had been in a heated discussion on 9 February with a Salafi school teacher, and a complaint was filed two weeks later by Abdel-Hamid, a teacher at the same school, who had not been in school on that day. The complaint was signed by eleven other teachers, and some teachers went on strike until he was arrested and prosecuted.
On 2 April the Coptic Orthodox Church withdrew from negotiations over the new Egyptian Constitution, citing the Islamist domination of the drafting body. This followed the withdrawal of several liberal parties and public figures from the talks, as well as that of Al-Azhar University. The Egyptian judiciary subsequently suspended the commission tasked with negotiating and drafting the new Constitution. Mohamed Morsi, now President, who was at that time head of the Freedom and Justice Party, said that the FJP would not appeal the cour’s decision.
Seventeen-year-old Gamal Abdou Massoud was sentenced to three years in prison for allegedly posting cartoons on his Facebook page which mocked Islam and the Prophet Mohammed, Reuters Africa reported on April 4. He was also accused of sharing the cartoons with school friends in his home town of Assiut, in Southern Egypt, a town with a large Christian population. The cartoons sparked sectarian violence in which several Christian homes were burnt down, and some Christians were injured. According to Negad al-Borai, the sentence is the maximum possible for such a crime.
A judge in Upper Egypt has dropped all charges against a group of Salafis who cut off the ear of a Coptic man, and tried to force him to convert. The attack, which occurred on 20 March 2011, came after the group falsely accused Ayman Anwar Metry, 46, of running a brothel and having an affair with a Muslim woman. His attackers tried to force him to say the shahada, and cut off his ear when he
refused. They also started to saw open the back of his neck when he denied any romantic involvement with the woman, who was also beaten. Metry was forced to drop the case after the assailants shot at him, tried to burn down his house, and threatened to kidnap his sisters.
On 24 April, AINA reported that the panel appointed by the Egyptian Minister of Justice to investigate the Maspero Massacre had closed the case. The judge claimed the reason was “lack of identification of the culprits” of the events of 9 October 2011, which killed 27 people and left over 300 injured. Charges against Copts and Muslims alike were dropped because of lack of evidence. Friends and relatives of Maspero victims have vowed to continue fighting until they get justice, even considering going to international courts to do so. Lawyers representing the victims quit the court on 12 April, accusing the court of bias.