The five Coptic families that were last week ago forcefully evicted from their home village of Kafr Darwish in al-Fashn, Beni Sweif some 100km south of Cairo, are now back home and receiving warm ‘welcome home’ visits from their neighbours, Muslim and Copt. A general air of festivity and jubilation reigns as the family members settle home weeping with joy.
The five families form one extended family whose patriarch Youssef Tawfiq is 80 years old and matriarch is 75. The sons: Atef, Emad, Nour, and Ayman, are married and have their own families. They had been forced to leave the village on account of claims that Ayman Youssef Tawfiq, who currently works in Jordan while his wife and children remain in Kafr Darwish, posted cartoons offensive to the Prophet Muhammad on his Facebook page. The family says Ayman is illiterate and has no FB page; they claim he was framed and had lost his mobile phone a few days before the alleged FB posting.
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 Kafr Darwish with stones and Molotov explosives. More than 10 houses were torched. A car owned by the Copt Malak Youakim Ayad was smashed. A number of Muslim youth helped the Copts defend their homes, and the police moved to swiftly contain the matter.
The attack was on account of the alleged disdain of Islam by Ayman Youssef’s offensive cartoons.
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 the Tawfiq family should leave the village in order for matters to calm down.
Initial resistance by the Tawfiqs to leave the village was backed by the other Coptic villagers, but brought on another vicious attack against the Copts in the village. Several houses were torched and the houses and fields of the Tawfiqs were burned, their crops uprooted, and their cattle killed. They were told by Mayor Maher, that the police cannot guarantee their safety if they remained in the village. They left.
While in exile, 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.”
One of the Coptic villagers of Kafr Darwish told Watani that, Thursday 28 May, Mayor Maher met Fr Hatour and a number of Copts at the church of the Holy Virgin in the village and told them he had been suspended 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 mentioned no prospective date.
The Copts of Kafr Darwish began on Friday 29 May a collective fast and prayer for the five families to come back home safely.
Sunday 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.”
The governor’s words raised hopes for a speedy return of the families. The following day, Monday 1 June, saw another action that was designed to pave the way for that return. 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 to look into the attacks against the Copts of Kafr Darwish. According to Father Ghobrial of the Beit al-A’ila in Biba, Beni Sweif, the organisation decided to dispatch a delegation of Muslim clerics to the village to calm down tensions between the Muslims and Copts and secure a safe return home for the exiled families.
Through peace and goodwill
Tuesday 2 June, saw the return home of the five families. True to his word, Governor Selim was on hand to welcome them home. A marquee was set up in the village square where a celebration was held to honour their homecoming.
Governor Selim said he had been following up on the matter closely, and was in constant touch with Anba Estaphanous; Bishop of Biba, al-Fashn, and Samasta; who together with the local Muslim clerics participated in the celebration. The governor said he could have brought the five families home since the moment they were forced to leave, by the force of law and order. “But this would in no way have secured their long-term safety,” he said. “I preferred to go through Beit al-A’ila in order to make sure peace and goodwill replace the hatred and harshness which drove them out. This alone can secure their peaceful homecoming.”
As to the village mayor, Governor Selim said he will be questioned and an investigation held of his role in the eviction of the Copts. If he allowed the injustice, the governor said, he will be penalised.
The governor promised the Copts will be compensated for the losses they incurred. There are hopes that this will come at a later stage.
A week before the Kafr Darwish incident, 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 on 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 teenagers and the teacher are all being prosecuted.
According to Ishaq Ibrahim of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, 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.
2 June 2015