A conciliation session was held Saturday 23 July between the Copts and Muslims of the village of Saft al-Kharsa in Beni Sweif, 100km south of Cairo. A mob of fanatic Muslim villagers had attacked the Copts on Friday 22 July causing damages to seven houses and a car, all belonging to Copts. The police was able to quickly contain the attack and protect the Copts.
An eyewitness told Watani that Muslims in the village had spread a rumour that the Copts planned to convert a house under construction owned by Nadi Yacoub into a church. The house is a two-storey building erected on a piece of land 250sq.m. in area; the lower floor includes four rooms and a workshop, whereas the area of the upper floor includes no dividing walls or separators. This drove the Muslim villagers to believe the building would be used as a church where religious rites would be practised on the upper floor.
After Friday noon prayers, an extremist Muslim mob gathered and waged an attack against the Coptic villagers. To cries of Allahu Akbar (Allah is the Greatest), they threw stones at Coptic houses, terrorising the inmates especially the women and children. Seven Coptic-owned homes incurred damages, as well as a car belonging to Yacoub.
The police immediately arrived and dispersed the fanatic demonstration using tear gas. They caught eight Copts and 18 Muslims pending investigations. The prosecution is currently investigating the case.
The police did not leave the village till the following day when the conciliation was held.
The conciliation was worked out by the village elders as well as the local politicians Ali Abu-Dawla and Gamal Hindi. Beni Sweif security officials attended as observers. It was decided that the house under construction should be used for residence, and that the upper floor may be used for weddings or funerals but may not be converted into a church unless all the necessary official permits are obtained.
On Saturday evening Beni Sweif Governor Sherif Habib visited Saft al-Kharsa; he had the day before issued a statement on the incident in which he detailed the attack and damages and promised that security will be his top priority in the village. In his visit, the Governor was accompanied by Beni Sweif Security Chief, General Mahmoud al-Ashri, and local officials and politicians. He met the Copts and listened to their demand for a church. The village is home to 50 Coptic [extended] families that make a 300-strong Coptic congregation, and includes no church. The nearest church is 12km away in the village of Abu-Bushra.
The authorities in Beni Sweif have gained a reputation for not tolerating attacks against Copts. Some two weeks ago, a Copt in the Beni Sweif village of Beni Bekheit was accused of killing a Muslim. Normally, this would have triggered a ferocious attack against the Copts. In Beni Bekheit, however, the security authorities deployed large forces that worked to guard against any such attack till, a week later, investigations revealed the Copt was innocent; a Muslim man confessed to having committed the crime.
24 July 2016