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By Nader Shukry – Watani

On 10 January, Egypt’s Public Prosecutor Hamada al-Sawy contested the Appeals Court ruling of 17 December 2020 which acquitted three men charged with stripping naked an elderly Coptic woman in the village of al-Karm in Minya, some 250km south of Cairo. The Public Prosecutor referred the case to the Court of Cassation, Egypt’s highest court.

For its part, Egypt’s National Council for Women represented by its President Maya Morsy offered the Coptic woman, Suad Thabet, the opportunity for expert legal advice should she need it, and expressed its readiness to provide her with a defence team.

Copt woman stripped, homes burned

The story goes back to 19 May when a rumour circulated in al-Karam of an affair between the Copt Ashraf Danial Ayad and the Muslim woman Nagwa Ragab, both in their early 30s, married and with children. Mr Ayad received threats to him and his family, which he directly reported to the police. Islam bans any relation or marriage between Muslim women and non-Muslim men, even though it allows such liaisons in case of Muslim men and non-Muslim women. Ayad hurriedly fled the village with his wife and four daughters. His old parents, however, remained.

The following evening, a group of some 300 men set off, armed with various weapons, and broke into seven Copt-owned homes and property. They looted their belongings and set five of them on fire, among them the Ayad family home. The losses were estimated at EGP350,000.

The assaulters beat Mr Ayad’s mother, Suad Thabet who was then 68, dragged her out of the house, and stripped of her clothes, cheering and defaming her in front of a large crowd in the street. Her 79-year-old husband, Abdu Ayad was also beaten and injured.

Ms Thabet testified that the Muslim mob which assaulted her was led by Nazeer Ishaq Ahmad, the husband of the Muslim woman Naglaa Ragab; his father Ishaq Ahmad; and his brother Abdel-Moniem Ishaq Ahmad.

The police arrived and arrested 25 Muslim villagers, among them the Ahmads, who were prosecuted on account of plundering and burning the Copts’ homes. The Ahmads were also prosecuted for their assault of Ms Thabet.

Fears materialised

The attack against Ms Thabet shocked and outraged Egyptians, and brought on an apology from President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi who also ordered that all the houses should be repaired by and at the expense of the Armed Forces, which was promptly done.

Ms Thabet took legal proceedings against Ishaq and his two accomplices but, after almost eight months of investigations and deliberations, the prosecution dropped the case because of inconsistencies in Ms Thabet’s testimony, and because several witnesses had gone back on their original testimonies. But the case was reopened in February 2017 upon a request by Ms Thabet’s defence.

In the meantime, Mr Attiya Jr was found guilty of an illicit affair with a Muslim woman, and sentenced to one year in prison.

On 11 January 2020, Minya Criminal Court sentenced in absentia each of Mr Ishaq and his two accomplices to 10 years in prison. They appealed the ruling.

In February 2020, just a few days before their case was seen in court, the Coptic owners of four of the five houses that were burned in 2016 went back on their testimony against the defendants charged with burning their houses. The said they had been mistaken in the identity of those who set their houses on fire; it was dark at night and they could not see them properly. They thus ‘reconciled’ with the 24 defendants. The Coptic owners of the fifth house: Ms Thabet, her husband, and their son-in-law, refused to conciliate. It was feared, however, that the changed testimonies of the Copts would work to undermine Ms Thabet’s case against the Ahmads who had turned themselves in.

The fears materialised on 17 December 2020 when the court acquitted the Ahmads.

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