Six full months after the Copts in the Beni-Sweif village of Diabiya, some 100km south of Cairo, were attacked in their homes, shops and businesses, and their church burned, they remain in a state of distress.
Apart from the fact that they haven’t been given official licence to rebuild their church, and have never been compensated for their losses, the six Copts who had been detained by the police pending investigations are still remanded in custody. Back then, the police had detained 13 men, seven Muslims and six Copts.
Rampage against Copts
The story goes back to 11 August when a street fight broke out over a speed bump which a Coptic villager had built in front of his house to slow down traffic for the sake of the safety of children who usually played on the street. A Muslim on a motorbike had a fall as he crossed over the bump, and this led to a fight that escalated to include a large number of Muslims and Copts, and that ended in an all-out attack against the Coptic villagers
As in other villages where Copts are no minority—in Diabiya they form some 50 per cent of the population—the Muslims rallied others from nearby villages to their help. They went on a rampage, assaulting Copts and attacking and burning anything that belonged to them. They used sticks, clubs, stones, rocks, swords and daggers, knives, sickles, guns, Molotov cocktails, and fireballs. They attacked Coptic homes, stables, and fields, and burned the church. The sanctuary, altars, icons, books, benches, were all eaten up by the flames, as was the baptistery, the furnace used to bake the host bread, the bookshop and the canteen. The church was left a ruin. Some nine Coptic houses were burned, as well as two shops and a mill. Sixteen villagers, 10 Copts and six Muslims, were injured and moved to hospital.
Fleeing the police station
The six Copts who had been detained in the wake of the riots had, together with all the other detainees in Wasta police station, fled the station when it was attacked by the Muslim Brothers and set on fire on 14 August. The MB had then gone on a nationwide rampage against the Egyptian police in retaliation for the overthrow of the MB president Muhammad Mursi and the dispersal of the MB sit-ins in Cairo. The Coptic men who had fled the Wasta police station, together with three of seven Muslims, later handed themselves back to the police. But four of the Muslim detainees fled and never handed themselves in. According to eyewitnesses in Diabiya, they roam the village freely under the eyes and noses of the police.
“The decision of extending the detention of the Diabiya Copts has only one implication,” Milad Shafiq, the lawyer of the Coptic detainees told Watani. “It is only to force the Copts to accept ‘reconciliation’, meaning they give up all their legal rights in return for their freedom.” When Watani made the remark that three Muslims were also still detained, he said that the charges against them are backed by strong evidence since they were caught while setting fire to the church and Coptic homes. The Copts on the other hand are charged with mobbing and intended murder, charges which are backed by no evidence and which are expected to carry no penalty.
The Coptic detainees are: Nady Ghaly, 70; his son Milad Nady, 31; Maher Ayad Tanious, 32; Girgis Abdallah, 42; Milad Youssef Rizq, 35; and Nabil Awad Tanious, 30.
Magda Adli, the wife of Milad Youssef, talked to Watani. “My husband used to work as a microbus driver; he actually owned the microbus he drove. We have three children: Youssef , 11, who suffer from anaemia and needs regular blood transfusion; Romany, 8; and Kyrillos, 4. Milad had nothing to do with the riots; he doesn’t even live in the village. He was just asked by relatives to give them a lift from Cairo to Diabiya and when they arrived the riots were already raging. His microbus was partly ruined,” she said She added that the last time she visited him he was very depressed and worried about the sick child. Adli said she wrote a complaint to Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and demanded that he should intervene to release her unfairly detained husband.
Nabila Habib, Nabil Awad’s wife said: “My 43-year-old husband was dismissed from the paints factory where he worked because he has been absent for so long, on account of his detention. We have three children Nader, Mariam and Awad who are all still at school. My husband wasn’t by any means part of the clashes because he had had surgery few days before the incidents and he was lying in bed. But when he heard that the clashes had taken place close to where his cousins lived, he rushed to check in on them and make sure they were safe. That’s when he was arrested.
“When the judge pronounced the extension of the custody I couldn’t help crying. He looked at me and said: ‘We know they are innocent but there are official procedures that must take their course.’ Yet it is difficult for us, because he was our sole breadwinner.”
14 February 2014