On 15 May, an Egyptian man was sentenced to death for the killing and wounding of six Copts in December 2010, according to AINA reports. The case had been passed to the Egyptian Grand Mufti, who upheld the ruling. According to eye-witnesses, Amer Ashour Abdel Zaher entered a train and opened fire on six Copts who were sitting together.
While the verdict came as a surprise to many in the Coptic community, others were less convinced of its legitimacy. Mina Yacoub, a Coptic activist, dismissed the ruling as being linked to the presidential elections, with Islamist parties seeking to appease the Coptic population and allay fears of the application of Sharia law.
On 21 May, in a ruling widely condemned by human rights defenders and activists, an Egyptian court sentenced twelve Copts to life imprisonment, while acquitting eight Muslims. The trial was related to sectarian violence which took place in Minya in April 2011. The Coptic Christians were accused of sowing public strife, possession of illegal weapons, and killing two Muslims. The tensions started when a Muslim driver confronted security guards at the house of a wealthy Christian, because of the speedbump outside the house. The driver assembled a group to avenge the alleged wrongdoing, but when they returned and surrounded the house, the guard opened fire from the building’s roofs, killing two in the crowd and wounding two others. The eight Muslims on trial were accused of illegal possession of weapons and having burned Christian buildings in retaliation, but were acquitted of all charges.
According to an unconfirmed report from popular news website, al-Bashayer, on May 27, Mohamed Morsi declared his intention to achieve the second Islamic conquest of Europe, making all Christians convert to Islam, pay jizya, a tax for non-Muslims, or leave the country. In response a question of who the second Islamic conqueror would be, the presidential candidate replied “Mohamed Morsi”, referring to himself. The comments, as yet unconfirmed, were made in the context of a private
meeting at the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood. They stand in stark contrast to rhetoric seeking to woo Coptic voters.
Twelve people were injured after clashes between Coptic and Muslim students in the women’s dormitories of Assiut University on 9 June. A Coptic law student had been distributing leaflets and tracts in her dormitory, along with an Engineering student friend. Muslim students reported the Coptic students‟ actions, but when the building supervisor tried to intervene, she allegedly was beaten by students from both sides, who had started fighting.
Bishoy Kameel Kamel el-Behery, a 32-year-old Coptic schoolteacher, was arrested on 30 July for posting cartoons on a Facebook page which allegedly defamed the Prophet and offended Islam. While admitting ownership of the page, Kamel claims that he was not responsible for the post, as the account had been hacked.28 On 18 September, it was reported that Kamel had been sentenced to six years in prison for posting the cartoons, and for insulting President Mohamed Morsi and his family. The sentence breakdown was three years for defaming Islam and the Prophet Mohammed, two years for insulting the president, and one year for insulting Mohamed Safwat Tammam, who made the allegations against him. Members of Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya and various Salafist groups attempted to attack Kamel when he was led out of the court after receiving his sentence. They then threw rocks at the police car used to transport him away from the court.
One hundred and twenty Coptic families fled their homes on 1 August after a Muslim man died having suffered 3rd degree burns in an incident involving fighting between a large group of Muslims and a Coptic family. The tensions began on 27 July, when Sameh Samy, a Coptic professional garments presser, accidentally burnt the shirt of a Muslim client, Ahmad Ramadan. The two agreed to meet at Sameh‟s home once the Muslim had broken his fast, but when several hundred Muslims congregated, he locked himself inside. The mob fired shots and launched Molotov cocktails, one of which failed to explode, and was thrown back at the attackers, hitting Moadh Hassaballah. The group continued to torch Sameh‟s home and launderette after looting the contents, wounding Sameh and his family, and was prevented from storming a church by a group of moderate Muslims from the same village. The families returned to Dahshur one week later, and were given compensation for the losses they had incurred. However, several shops and homes were torched and looted, with one Coptic activist claiming that the security guards present did nothing to prevent the attacks. 30
According to an unconfirmed report published in Al Akhbar News, Copts in Sohag, Upper Egypt were attacked after Islamist groups distributed leaflets calling for the killling or physical attack of “enemies of the religion of Allah”. Four Coptic stores were set on fire, hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of merchandise was looted, and houses were robbed and attacked, with ownership contracts also being stolen. In addition, physical attacks were carried out on Copts, using sticks and canes, and accompanied by threats of further violence.
Nine Coptic families fled their homes in Rafah on 28 September, and 23 more families planned to follow them. This exodus came after a Coptic man received a warning that „all Christians should leave Rafah within 48 hours, otherwise they will be killed.‟ Masked men on motorcycles sprayed Coptic shops with bullets two days earlier. The nine families who left have been given posts in the neighbouring town of Al-Arish, but for other families the move will prove much more difficult, as many are shop-owners and own property.
On 3 October, two children were arrested for allegedly tearing up pages of the Quran, urinating on them, and placing them near a mosque in the Ezbet Marco area of southern Beni Suef. Ibrahim Mohamed, a Salafi Sheikh, turned Nabil Rizk (ten) and Mina al-Farag (nine) into Ishak Qastour, the priest at the local Angel Michael Church, but felt the priest’s response was unsatisfactory, and took the case to court. Rizk‟s father responded by saying that as the boys are illiterate, they were unaware of the content of the pages. The boys were released on 4 October, after expecting to have been charged with blasphemy. Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer on the team representing the two boys, reported that the charges were dropped on 10 October. George Bibawi, the boys’ lawyer, refuted all reports that President Morsi had a role in the helping the release of the two boys.
According to several reports, Ali Abu Hussein Ali, nicknamed “Holako” for his record of brutality, entered the house of a Copt named Hiyam Zaki Maher 42 in Mallawi in Dayr Mawas on the morning of 14 October, demanding that she should come to live with him. Ali Hussein had threatened two weeks earlier that they would take her if the Marzouk family failed to pay them 1,000,000 Egyptian pounds (USD 165,000, GBP 105,000). The family had ensured that the 25-year old mother of two had left the village a day before the intrusion. According to a relative, Hussein Ali encountered Ephrem, another family member, on entering the house, and shot him twice, killing him instantly. Subsequently, the gang, consisting of Hussein Ali‟s two brothers and 120 other men, also entered the house, killing 61-year old Ibrahim Marzouk, the father of the family, and wounding another three family members. Ali Hussein was also killed, though it is unclear who shot him. The police arrived nine hours later, and were therefore accused by the Coptic community of conspiring with Ali Hussein and his gang. A number of local Salafis protested the killing of a Muslim at the hands of Christians, calling Ali Hussein “beloved of the Prophet”.
According to an AINA report, on 8 October Mohammad Mostafa Kamel, a Prosecutor at the Alexandria Criminal Court, broke into a church with his two sons and several other hired Muslims and attempted to demolish it. Despite having no demolition order, they arrived with a front loader, and proceeded to demolish part of the altar at St Mary‟s Church in Rashid, near Alexandria. Fathers Maximos and Luke Asaad rushed to the police station to report the incident, and when Kamel and his sons were brought to the station, they threatened to kill the two priests and their lawyer. Although the police confiscated the front loader, they refused to take legal action against Kamel, because of his position as a Prosecutor. A police report was filed relating to the threats.
The trial of an Islamist cleric accused of burning a Bible continues. Supporters of Abu Islam Ahmed Abdullah disrupted the trial, ripping and burning images of Jesus and the late Coptic Pope Shenouda III. Responding to accusations that he burnt a Bible during protests in September, Abu Islam claimed “there is no such thing as the Bible or the Torah”, and asserted that he had set fire to an English-language Bible, and not the Coptic-approved Arabic translation, out of respect for the Coptic community. A decision on Abu Islam’s request for the panel of judges to be changed was postponed until 16 December. Dr Naguib Gabriel, a prominent human rights lawyer, noted that all Coptic Christians charged with defaming Islam are brought to justice without delay. Ahram Online noted that in all other cases of defamation of religion involving Coptic defendants, the accused have been held in police custody until the conclusion of their trials. This case stands as a notable exception, illustrating a double standard relating to the treatment of religious minorities in the justice system.
A large mob gathered around the only Coptic Church in Ezbet Marco, Beni Suef on 28 October, preventing churchgoers from other villagers from attending. Daily News Egypt reported that skirmishes occurred, resulting in several individuals suffering fractures to their arms and feet. Copts without churches in their village are forced to attend churches in neighbouring towns, and while mosques may be built freely with little government interference, Copts require written permission, and requests are often rejected.
A crowd of Salafi Muslims surrounded a concert venue on 29 October, protesting a celebration of Egyptian national unity which they perceived as promoting Christianity. The Construction and Development Party, the political wing of Gama’a Islamia, surrounded the concert venue in Minya shortly after it began. Security personnel advised those attending the concert to leave so as to avoid further clashes. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) denounced the assault.
According to reports, fourteen year old Sarah Ishaq Abdelmalek was abducted on 30 September while on her way to school with her cousin Miriam. She has not been seen since. Shortly after filing a missing person report, her father received a call informing him that he would never see his daughter again. On 28 October the Salafist Front issued a statement warning human rights organisations not to attempt returning Sarah to her family, and claiming that she had converted to Islam and married a Muslim man. The Salafist Front also denied the truth of claims by Sarah’s family that she is a minor, despite the Coptic Association of Victims of Abduction and Enforced Disappearance (AVAED) publishing a copy of her birth certificate, which states her date of birth as 1 August 1998. Mohammed Abdul Salam, the Attorney General for West Alexandria, ordered the arrest of a bookseller in Marsa Matrouh in relation to the kidnapping, and the acting pope, Bishop Pachomious called for Sarah, who is a member of his congregation, to be returned to her family without delay.
According to local news reports on 6 November, a group of Salafis briefly took over the land of a church in the Shubra al-Kheima District of Cairo. A sign reading “Al-Rahma Mosque” was erected, and the group performed Islamic prayers inside the building for 24 hours, leaving only when church authorities informed the Interior Ministry. Security has since removed the sign. Bishop Morcos, Coptic Bishop of the district, was able to prevent Copts from reacting, but confessed that he would not be able to do so forever. The Maspero Copts Youth Union denounced the occupation, while the Egyptian Coptic Coalition Group held Mohamed Morsi responsible, calling for harsher punishment for such attacks and strict laws against “extremist” preachers. In addition, they suggested the appointment of an independent and impartial security official in each governorate, to respond immediately to attacks on citizens or property on the basis of their religion.
On 7 November, a veiled Muslim woman cut the hair of a Coptic schoolgirl while on the subway. The unveiled schoolgirl, Maggie Milad Fazez, (aged thirteen), entered the train car, on the way to Zaytoun Preparatory school. She pushed past the woman, who threatened her, saying “you don‟t know what I will do to you”. On leaving the train, Maggie found that her hair had been cut, and was lying on her collar. A police complaint was filed in Zaytoun, a suburb of Cairo. According to Maggie‟s father, she was suffering psychologically and had abstained from taking food. Dr Naguib Gabriel, of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights, noted that a girl in first grade at Saray el Koba High School had her hair cut off in similar fashion just a few days earlier.
On 11 November, according to a statement published by the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, a 28 year-old Christian was assaulted by two women wearing the niqab. The women cut her hair and called her an “infidel”, before pushing her off the train, resulting in a broken arm.
Widespread reports suggest that Islamists conducted a fear campaign in order to intimidate Coptic communities and keep them from voting on the new Constitution. One week before the 15 December vote, 50,000 Islamists marched through Assiut, in Southern Egypt, chanting “Islamic, Islamic, despite the Christians”, led by several men on horseback, replete with swords in scabbards. They intentionally targeted predominantly Coptic areas of Assiut. Voter turnout was therefore as low as seven percent in some areas, with several would-be voters pelted with stones and forced to turn back before casting their ballots. Assem Abdel-Magued, a senior member of Gama‟a Islamiya, allied to Mohamed Morsi‟s government, dismissed the claims as “lies and rumours”.
Edited from a compilation by CSW