By Nader Shukry – Watani
Just a few days before their case is seen in court, and some two weeks after the ‘lady of al-Karm’ was granted justice by court, four of the five al-Karm Copts whose houses were burnt in May 2016 went back on their testimony against the defendants charged with burning their houses.
The case goes back to May 2016 when the village of al-Karm in Abu-Qurqas, Minya, some 250km south of Cairo, witnessed an attack by the Muslim villagers against the Copts on rumour of an illicit affair between a Coptic man and a Muslim woman, both married and in their early thirties. Islam bans such relations, even though it condones reciprocal affairs between Muslim men and non-Muslim women. The 2016 al-Karm affair led to an attack on the home of the Copt’s parents—he had already fled the village together with his wife and four daughters—his elderly father Abdu Attiya was beaten up, and his 70-year-old mother, Suad Thabet, was dragged out, stripped naked, and beaten.
The Muslim woman’s husband, Nazeer Ishaq, led the attack against Ms Thabet. The Muslim villagers also attacked the Copts in the village, looting and burning seven Coptic-owned houses. Twenty-five Muslims were caught and charged with violence and arson.
The attack against Ms Thabet had shocked and outraged Egyptians, and brought on an apology from President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi who also ordered that all the houses damaged—among them Ms Thabet’s house—should be repaired by and at the expense of the Armed Forces, which was promptly done.
Mr Attiya Jr was later found guilty of an illicit affair with a Muslim woman, and sentenced to one year in prison.
Ms Thabet took legal proceedings against Ishaq and two accomplice. On 11 January 2020, Minya Criminal Court sentenced each of Mr Ishaq and his two accomplices to 10 years in prison.
The case against the 25 Muslim villagers charged with attacking and burning the Copts’ houses was scheduled to be seen in court on 10 February 2020. On 3 February, however, the Copts signed a ‘conciliation agreement’ with their attackers, in which they pledged to go back on their testimony against the defendants in court, so that the charges against them would be dropped. Ms Suad Thabet was the only one among the five Copts who did not sign the agreement. It remains to be seen what the judge will decide.
Citing threats by the defendants and their families, al-Karm Copts said they feared vicious retaliation by the village Muslims should the court rule against them.
“Who can guarantee us and our families safety and protection if those 25 men are sentenced?” the Copts said. “We just want to live in to peace.”