The Copts in the town of Farshout in Qena, Upper Egypt were the victims of attacks by a several-hundred strong Muslim mob on Saturday 21 November. Some 30 Coptic-owned shops, five pharmacies, three workshops, and two buses, were broken into, plundered, then burned, while countless Coptic homes were besieged and thrown with stones. At least seven Copts and one Muslim were injured. The attack, which started at 10:00 on Saturday morning, lasted until 11:00pm.
Until late in the evening the security forces could not control the mob and had to call for additional forces from Assiut and Sohag, and resort to tear gas to disperse the angry crowds. A curfew was imposed on the town. Some 30 rioters were detained, and a security cordon was imposed on Farshout, and the neighbouring villages of Shuqeiqi, and Kom al-Ahmar.
Local politicians converged on the town to calm matters down.
Hand him over!
The attacks came in the wake of a story circulated in town two days earlier that a 21-year-old Coptic man named Girgis Girgis, who is a bread vendor from the village of Kom al-Ahmar in the vicinity of Farshout, had sexually assaulted a 12-year-old Muslim girl named Yusra from the nearby village of Shuqeiqi. Yusra said Girgis had taken her into a sugar cane field where he attempted to rape her.
Yusra was moved to hospital for examination but, until Watani went to press the official medical report had not been released.
Ra’fat Samir, who heads the Luxor branch of the Egyptian Union for Human Rights, told Watani that the skirmishes had begun the previous Thursday when stones were thrown at a local priest, Father Benyamin Noshy, who was driving near Shuqeiqi. His car was stopped by a mob chanting jihadi slogans; he was attacked but managed a close escape.
On Saturday Girgis was scheduled to be moved from Farshout police station to stand before the public prosecutor. An angry mob, aroused by the students of the local Azhari Islamic schools, gathered before the police station demanding that Girgis be handed over to them to kill him. When Girgis failed to appear, they began hurling stones at the police station, then turned towards the town and waged the attack against the Copts.
The Church hastened to warn the Copts to shut down their shops and stay at home. This measure, as village elder Shenouda al-Abd told Watani saved the lives of the Copts.
Mr Samir said that the Azhari students gathered with hundreds of Muslims from Farshout and neighbouring villages, armed with fireballs, gasoline, iron beams, sticks and knives, and the rampage began to cries of “Allah is the greatest” and “Burn the infidels”. Coptic homes and businesses were attacked and burnt, and an attempt was made to break into the Church of the Archangel Michael but the gates were closed so the church escaped unhurt except for some stones thrown inside.
“It is very sad,” Mr Samir said, “that the rampage continued even well after the security forces arrived.”
An eyewitness who asked to remain unnamed told Watani that the rioters headed to the church of the Holy Virgin in Farshout to attack it, but members of the Muslim clan of Abu-Sahli defended the church. This clan had also attempted—without success—to save the Dr Georgette’s Pharmacy from the rampage. It is known that the Abu-Sahlis are not on good terms with the Hawwaras, the clan Yusra belongs to.
A supermarket owner who also asked to remain anonymous said that he quickly shut his store as soon as the riots began, and rushed home—he lives across the street—to protect his family. From his window at home he watched the rioters attempt to break in his store; when they could not they broke the lock. He saw the goods looted and taken out then the rioters set fire to the shop. He was heart-broken as he described the incident to Watani, he had been deprived of his livelihood and his shop burnt before his eyes. He placed his losses at some EGP60,000. “Who will compensate me for my losses?” he moaned. Regretfully, in the couple of days to follow his story had become all-too-common.
Several of the Copts Watani talked to accused the security authorities of severe inadequacy—some even claim they tacitly collaborated with the attackers by turning a blind eye to the attack, standing by doing nothing till it was far too late. Copts claim the security presence did nothing to alleviate the assault; matters only calmed down when tear gas was used late in the evening. By then, the Copts complain, the damage had already been done.
Even the Coptic charitable society in Farshout, its pre-school nursery and its primary school were attacked. Till week end Copts kept to their homes, neither going to their work nor sending their children to school.
Anba Kyrillos, Bishop of Nag Hamadi, deplored the attack saying that, even if one individual is accused of committing some crime it was unacceptable that the entire Coptic community should be made to pay the price. He said the security forces did not succeed in rescuing the Copts despite their countless calls for help.
Anba Kyrillos rejected the idea that there would be any reconciliation before the Copts are compensated for their losses. He said the suffering of the Copts has been tremendous on account of this unfortunate incident; many had to leave their villages and locate elsewhere, with all the hardship involved in that. The Coptic villagers of Kom al-Ahmar in particular were all evacuated by the security authorities. Some were able to reside with friends, but Nag Hamadi bishopric provided others with shelter, Anba Kyrillos said.
By Monday the riots spread to other the villages in the vicinity of Farshout. At Abu-Shusha, 25km from Nag Hamadi, three Coptic-owned shops and one pharmacy were plundered and burned. And at Araqi, 10km from Farshout, three fields owned by Copts were set aflame, as was the home of Mamdouh Lucas Manqarious. Two Coptic brothers who stood before their homes carrying sticks in self-defence, Makram and Girgis Rashed were arrested by the police.