The village of Demian in Bilqas, Daqahliya, west of the Delta, was the scene of sectarian tension last week as Islamists in the village rallied against the village Copts. The reason behind the rally was that the young Copt, Michael Mounir Bishay, 26 years old and a worker in a textile firm, had posted on his facebook page a u-tube link of a TV show which was allegedly defamatory of Islam. Even though the show, which was aired on 22 November 2014, featured the TV star anchor Tony Khalifa on his talk show al-Qahira wal-Naas hosting Sheikh Muhammad Abul-Nasr on Islamic issues, the Islamists of Bilqas judged it to be defamatory.
Last Monday, Demain Islamists mobbed the house of Bishay’s extended family—Bishay himself was at his work outside the village—demanding his blood and attempting to torch the house on claims that he had ridiculed the Islamic religion. They demanded that the Bishays should be forcefully evicted from the village. The Muslim neighbours, however, confronted the Islamists who had succeeded in already burning a motorbike owned by one of the Bishays and parked in front of their house, and quickly smuggled the Bishays out of their home. The neighbours formed a human shield around the house and aborted the lsamist attempt to torch it.
“Without the intervention of our moderate Muslim neighbours,” Hanaa’ Mounir, Michael’s sister told Watani, the Islamist attack would have been turned into a disaster.”
The Bishays called Michael and asked him to go into hiding so as to save his skin, but he insisted he had done nothing wrong and went to the police, reported the incident, and handed himself in. Bilqas prosecution ordered him to be detained for four days; security authorities told his family he was being kept in a safe place for his own security. The Bishays, however, are worried since they have not been able to contact him.
Hanaa’ accused a group of Muslim Brothers in the village of being behind the attack, and said that they went around the village in tuk-tuks rallying the Muslims to gather after Friday prayers to avenge themselves against the “Copts who disdained Islam”. Since the village population is 50 per cent Muslim and 50 per cent Coptic, the Islamist attempted to mobilise Muslims from neighbouring villages to join in the Friday attack.
George Mounir, Michael’s brother, said the family had always respected all religions and enjoyed good relations with Muslim; and that Michael himself had many Muslim friends. He wondered how a u-tube post could be used to create a sectarian problem, especially given that the talk show in question had been viewed by millions of viewers and that the guests were Muslim Azhari sheikhs.
Today, Friday, saw heightened security in Demian to guard against any intended unrest. At the same time, a convention was held at one of the village mosques during which some 100 village Muslims sat with Father Dioscor, the priest of the nearby St Demiana convent, and the elders of the Coptic community in the village. Fr Dioscor told Watani that the Muslims were unanimously against the forced eviction of the Bishays, and all stressed the importance of peaceful coexistence between the village Muslims and Copts.
This incident is the last in a long series of false accusations against Copts of disdaining Islam. Hardline Muslims inflame sectarian conflicts by persuading uneducated Muslims that Copts insult Islam; consequently the hardliners call for the forced displacement of Copts and seizure of their property. In cases that were brought before court, the Islamists surrounded the courthouses and filled the courtrooms, threatening with violence should the Copt be acquitted. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a Rights NGO, observed that some 48 cases of contempt of Islam have been reported from 2011 to 2013. The cases increased from three in 2011 to 12 in 2012 and 13 in 2013. The court found 27 of 42 people guilty.
6 February 2015