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Efforts for return of expelled Coptic families

Girgis Waheeb

01 Jun 2015 6:51 pm

The Beit al-A’ila, literally Family Home, a nation-wide State-sponsored organisation which includes as members Christian and Muslim clerics and laymen and which works to evade, abort, and dissipate sectarian conflict, held a meeting today Monday 1 June to look into the attacks against the Copts of the village of Kafr Darwish in al-Fashn, Beni Sweif. According to Father Ghabrial of the Beit al-A’ila in Biba, Beni Sweif, the organisation decided to dispatch a delegation of Muslim clerics to the village of Kafr Darwish to calm down tensions between the Muslims and Copts in the village and pave the road for the return of five Coptic families that were expelled from Kafr Darwish. The return will be in coordination with the local security authorities.

 

Disdain of Islam?

The story goes back to Sunday 24 May, when a number of radical Muslim youth waged an attack against the homes of Copts in the village of Kafr Darwish in al-Fashn, Beni Sweif, 100km south of Cairo, hurling at them stones and Molotov explosives. More than 10 houses were torched and damaged. A car owned by the Copt Malak Youakim Ayad was smashed. A number of Muslim youth helped the Copts defend their homes against the assailants, and the police moved to swiftly contain the matter.

The attack was on account of the alleged disdain of Islam by the Coptic villager Ayman Youssef. It was rumoured that Youssef, who comes from Kafr Darwish but currently works in Jordan, posted on his Facebook account cartoons offensive to the Prophet Mohamed. Youssef is illiterate and claims that he lost his mobile phone a few days before the alleged FB posting.

A conciliation session was quickly held by the local elders and security staff at the Fashn police station, and a later one at the house of the Mayor Ahmed Maher. It was attended by security representatives, Muslim and Christian clergy and representatives of the village Muslim and Christian families. It was decided that Youssef’s family should leave the village in order for matters to calm down. ‘Family’ meant the extended family: specifically Ayman Youssef’s father Youssef Tawfiq and his wife; as well as the other Youssef siblings Atef, Emad, and Nour and their direct families. The senior Tawfiq is 80 years old and his wife is 75. Their houses and fields were burned, their crops uprooted, and their cattle killed. They were told by the Mayor that the police cannot guarantee their safety if they remained in the village.

 

Collective punishment

Yesterday, 31 May, Beni Sweif governor: Muhammad Selim, promised he would pay a visit to Kafr Darwish the following day and that the families who were forcefully evicted will be returned home at once. He said: “We are living under a State of law. There is no such thing as collective penalty. Legal penalties are meted on an individual basis; whoever commits a violation is penalised and anyone who commits no violation should never be penalised.”

Emad Tawfiq told Watani that the mayor had told them that if they insisted on staying in the village they would be “burned to cinders”. “We were terrified for the safety of our children,” Tawfiq said, “so we hurried out. We are now, all 19 of us, crammed in a very small temporary lodging. Our children could not take their final exams, and our land and crops have been ruined.”

The Copts of Kafr Darwish had begun on last Friday 29 May a collective fast and prayer for the Lord to bring back home safely the five families who had been forced to leave the village.

According to one of Coptic villagers of Kafr Darwish, the village Mayor Ahmed Maher met Fr Hatour and a number of Copts at the church of the Holy Virgin Mary in the village last Thursday and told them he had been suspended by the local security authorities for having allowed the expulsion of the Coptic families. Mr Maher said he was doing his best to help the Coptic families return home as soon as possible, but he did not mention when.  

 

Common charge

A week ago, a young man in another Beni Sweif village was accused of disdaining Islam and is being prosecuted. The 18-year-old Maher Fayez Habib from Mayana was said to have posted material criticising Islam, the Prophet Muhammad, and Muslims on his Facebook page. Hoping to avert consequent attacks against the village Copts, the village Muslim and Coptic elders held an unofficial gathering Saturday 16 May at the Ahnasia police station during which the Copts apologised for the insult to Islam, and it was decided that the Habib family should leave the village temporarily till matters calm down and justice is served. And last April four Coptic teenage students from the village of Nassriya in Minya, Upper Egypt were accused, together with a young Coptic teacher, of deriding Islam because they poked fun at the beheading of Christians by IS in Libya. The teenager and the teacher are all being prosecuted.

According to Ishaq Ibrahim of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a rights group, cases of deriding Islam have risen drastically following the Arab Spring uprising in January 2011. Defendants do not usually get fair trials since the penal code is not well-defined on such charges, Ibrahim says, and also because the fundamentalists terrorise the judges and the courts.

Lawyers admit that accusing Christians of religious contempt on the basis of weak evidence has become commonplace, revealing a serious flaw in Egyptian society and exhibiting a flagrant breach of international law and international human rights treaties.

 

Watani International

1 June 2015

 

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