Copts must leave
On the evening of Sunday 24 May, a number of radical Muslim youth waged an attack against the homes of Copts in the village of Kafr Darwish, hurling at them stones and Molotov explosives. More than 10 houses were torched and damaged. A car owned by the Copt Malak Youakim Ayad was smashed. A number of Muslim youth helped the Copts defend their homes against the assailants, and the police moved to swiftly contain the matter.
A “conciliation session” was quickly held by the local elders and security staff at the Fashn police station. It was attended by security representatives, Muslim and Christian clergy and representatives of the village Muslim and Christian families. It was decided that Youssef’s family should leave the village in order for matters to calm down. ‘Family’ meant the extended family: specifically Ayman Youssef’s father Youssef Tawfiq and his wife; as well as the other Youssef siblings Atef, Emad, and Nour and their direct families. The senior Tawfiq is 80 years old and his wife is 75. They were told by the village mayor Ahmed Maher that the police “cannot guarantee their safety if they remained in the village.”
The attacks against the Copts, however, did not stop. The following days saw more fires set to Copts’ houses despite the security presence in the village. Among them were those belonging to Youssef Tawfiq, Ayman Youssef’s father, and to his other sons: Atef, Emad, and Nour. Fields belonging to the senior Tawfiq were damaged and the crops uprooted.
A week ago, a young man in another Beni Sweif village was accused of disdaining Islam and is being prosecuted. The 18-year-old Maher Fayez Habib from Mayana was said to have posted material criticising Islam, the Prophet Muhammad, and Muslims on his Facebook page. Hoping to avert consequent attacks against the village Copts, the village Muslim and Coptic elders held an unofficial gathering Saturday 16 May at the Ahnasia police station during which the Copts apologised for the insult to Islam, and it was decided that the Habib family should leave the village temporarily till matters calm down and justice is served. And last April four Coptic teenage students from the village of Nassriya in Minya, Upper Egypt were accused, together with a young Coptic teacher, of deriding Islam because they poked fun at the beheading of Christians by IS in Libya. The teenager and the teacher are all being prosecuted.
According to Ishaq Ibrahim of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a rights group, cases of deriding Islam have risen drastically following the Arab Spring uprising in January 2011. Defendants do not usually get fair trials since the penal code is not well-defined on such charges, Ibrahim says, and also because the fundamentalists terrorise the judges and the courts.
Lawyers admit that accusing Christians of religious contempt on the basis of weak evidence has become commonplace, revealing a serious flaw in Egyptian society and exhibiting a flagrant breach of international law and international human rights treaties.