The recent killing of a Copt and injury of three others in the village of Tahna al-Gabal in Minya some 230km south of Cairo, has left Copts with a sense of deep pain and bitterness. The incident comes after a long string of attacks against the Copts, in the short space of time between 24 May to 17 July, for reasons that range from suspicion of building a church, a romance between a Coptic man and Muslim woman or, as in the most recent case, a dispute in which the Copts demanded that they be treated with dignity. In all cases, no culprits were brought to justice; on the contrary, Copts are pressured, threatened, and coerced into ‘conciliating’ with their attackers in out-of-court settlements sponsored by the village elders who are more often than not Muslim, and the local politicians and security officials. Such conciliations oblige the Coptic victims to give up their legal rights and accept the oppressive terms of ‘conciliation’ forced upon them.
The funeral service held for the most recent victim, 27-year-old Fam Mari Khalaf of Tahna al-Gabal, saw an outpouring of wrathful pain and tears. A huge wooden cross was carried to lead the funeral procession as the women wailed and the men grieved. The mourners chanted slogans that pronounced their pride in their Christian faith for which they were being persecuted, and concluded with the short, repetitive plea: “Ya Rubb” (Oh God). According to an eyewitness, the cry “shook the ground”.
Anba Macarius, Bishop-General of Minya, presided over the funeral service and tearfully delivered a sermon which focused on the untimely death of the deceased.
Copts are Egyptian
Earlier in the day, Anba Macarius had tweeted: “Just a reminder, Mr President: Copts are Egyptian, and Minya is an Egyptian governorate,”
On another front, Coptic MPs attempted during a House of Representatives session this morning to discuss the recent attacks against the Copts. However, the House Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal refused them permission to do so despite their heated demand; he said he would meet the MPs later and discuss the matter in private and that he might accept to bring up the issue during another session of the House.
Coptic MP Nadia Henry issued a statement in which she called on President Sisi to intervene to put a stop to the constant violations against Copts in Minya. She demanded an end to the customary security laxity in dealing with attacks against the Copts, as well as to attempts to beautify matters through conciliation sessions sponsored by Beit al-Aila. Beit al-Aila is a State-sponsored council formed of representatives of al-Azhar and the Church, as well as a number of Muslim and Coptic laity whose prime purpose is to abort sectarian violence. The council, however, has done nothing of the sort and has instead, led by al-Azhar Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, attempted to cover up sectarian violence through so-called conciliation sessions. MP Henry stressed that sectarian incidents keep recurring since no culprit is ever brought to justice for crimes against Copts. She pointed out that President Sisi has time and again called for building a civic State and for the rule of law to prevail, and called on the President to form a top-notch fact finding committee from members of State apparatuses to address the sectarian violence file, and most especially in case of Minya.
Fast and prayer
Coptic youth movements such as Shabab Christian (Christian Youth) and the Maspero Youth Union (MYU) issued statements denouncing State inaction in the face of the injustice inflicted upon Copts, and called on the authorities to bring the culprits to justice.
MYU demanded of Pope Tawadros II to declare a state of public fast in the Church and to hold special public prayers for the matter. The youth union also demanded that the Pope should halt all meetings with State officials, in a move that should signal discontent and protest. It also advised the formation of a committee of 10 members from among the Coptic laity, youth and Melli (Community) Council, to meet with the State officials and attempt to bring back Coptic rights. The statement demanded of the State to swiftly compensate the Coptic victims as the Egyptian citizens that they are, and to reject the practice of conciliation sessions. It called on Copts to boycott Beit al-Aila and on Pope Tawadros to revoke the Church’s membership in “this council which has become an instrument to oppress Copts”. Finally, MYU demanded that the law should be applied, the culprits brought to justice, and the balancing act of accusing Copts of false charges so as to force them into conciliation should be stopped.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) expressed its deep concern over the recent escalation in sectarian violence in the governorate of Minya, citing the most recent three incidents in the villages of Tahna al-Gabal, Abu-Yacoub, and Kom al-Loufi. EIPR said that Minya alone had been the scene of 77 incidents of sectarian violence during the last five years; the figure, it said, did not include the notorious nationwide Muslim Brotherhood attack against the Copts on 14 August 2013.
EIPR’s Ishaq Ibrahim said that the State attitude which considers sectarian violence a security problem and which disregards its causes, symptoms, or solutions augments problem. Even on the security level, Mr Ibrahim said, the entire matter is discounted in an unjust ‘conciliation’ that further oppresses the Copts and reproduces the tense sectarian climate that bred the original incident. The environment becomes a hotbed for sectarianism, collective punishment of Copts, and the conviction that a sector of Egyptians possesses the right to determine the destiny of another sector of Egyptians as far as their right to practise their religious rites is concerned.
The law should be applied, EIPR stressed, and all State apparatuses should be given clear orders to bring to justice the culprits in criminal incidents, as well as those who incite hatred and promote sectarian violence.
Finally, EIPR demanded that the status of churches and any buildings affiliated to them in which religious rites are practised should be legalised. Also that the expected bill for building churches should be offered to societal dialogue to allow religious institutions and civil society organisations to engage in discussions over it so that it would come up with just rules that fulfil the needs of sectors of Egyptians.
18 July 2016