The Copts of the village of al-Beida in Amriya, also known as Amreya, south of Alexandria, are still suffering injustice in the wake of the attack against them by the village Muslims on Friday 17 June. The attack was on suspicion that the Coptic villages intended to turn a house owned by one of their community into a village church. Two Copts were injured, a number of Coptic homes plundered and damaged, and two Coptic families were forced to evict their homes under the pretext of security; they are still homeless. But what the al-Beida Copts really fear is that they would be coerced by the local security authorities into ‘reconciling’ with those who attacked them. ‘Conciliation’ is a traditional out-of-court settlement that is worked by local elders between disputing parties with the aim of achieving immediate social peace, and preconditions that none of the parties seeks legal rights. In case of Copts, traditional reconciliation has been notorious for coercing them into relinquishing their rights and succumbing to settlement agreements that are outright oppressive and unjust.
“We’ll bring down the church”
Following Friday noon prayers on 17 June, a Muslim mob gathered in al-Beida and, shouting Islamic slogans and cheering against the Copts, headed to a house under construction owned by the Copt Maurice Aziz who goes by the name Naeem Aziz. On the way they threw stones at Coptic-owned houses in the village. Once at the site of Aziz’s house, they attempted to destroy the building and the construction material that was being used to erect the house. They assaulted and injured Naeem and his brother Moussa, and terrorised the women and children who were at home in a house adjacent to the one under construction. “I was building this house for my sons,” Naeem said. “The mob attacked on rumours that it would be turned into a church.”
The police arrived at the scene, but the mobbing continued. The police evacuated Naeem’s house and nearby Coptic homes, but did not protect them against the mob which broke in and damaged and plundered the houses. The mob also attacked a community centre that lies adjacent to the Aziz house and that that belongs to the local church of the Holy Virgin and the Archangel Michael. They assaulted the Coptic men who attempted to defend the centre, damaged the priest’s car which was parked there, and burned a motorcycle.
The mobbing continued to shouts of: “By no means shall there be a church here”; “we’ll bring down the church to the earth”; and “Islamic, Islamic! Egypt will remain Islamic!”
The police caught six Muslims and six Copts, among them Naeem and Moussa Aziz, but released the Muslims before sunset—it is currently Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting from dawn to sunset. The Copts were charged with holding prayers without permission, and building without permit. At dawn the following day, they were released on bail. According to Ramy Qashwa of the Coptic Maspero Youth Union, the victimised Copts were turned into offenders. He says that the entire village, some 1500 houses, has been built unofficially without permits.
The Aziz brothers were banned from going into their home—they live on the ground floor of the building which came under attack and which was put under police ‘protection’.
Father Karass, pastor of the church of the Holy Virgin and the Archangel Michael, told Watani that the church-owned community centre was built in 2009 after the Church bought it from Naeem Aziz. The building, Fr Karass says, is composed of a ground floor and two upper floors, and serves the needs of 85 [extended] families. The Azizes temporarily occupy the ground floor till the adjacent house they are building for themselves is complete.
The Amriya crisis and the violence against its Copts prompted MP Muhammad Abu-Hamed to demand of Ali Abdel-Aal, Speaker of the parliament, to question the Prime Minister and the ministers of interior and justice on the matter. He said that, according to the Constitution Article 134, the incident qualifies as a terrorist crime that warrants questioning the officials involved.
Coptic MPs have been vocal in their demand for justice for Amriya Copts, but the few fundamentalist Salafi MPs accused them of exploiting the problem to stoke sectarianism.
Now the Amriya Copts are voicing fears that they will be coerced into ‘reconciling’ with those who attacked them at peril of being arrested for rioting. Naeem Aziz told Watani that the police has furnished Amriya prosecution with report that accuses the Muslim offenders and the Coptic victims of ‘rioting’ that resulted in the damages incurred. “We Copts have been attacked, our homes plundered and burned, the community centre we used for worship has been closed, two families evicted of their homes and left homeless, and two men injured, and now we are wanted by the police for rioting,” Mr Aziz said. “Instead of protecting us, the police are putting offender and victim on the same footing. They are sending us a very clear message that the only way to escape being detained and prosecuted is to give up all our legal rights and reconcile with those who attacked us. All this while the offenders run free. What ‘justice’ is this?”
25 June 2016