21 November 2010
Monday evening last week saw fires erupt in some 20 homes of Copts in the Upper Egyptian village of al-Nawahid in the vicinity of Aby-Tisht, 20km from Nag-Hammadi. Cattle belonging to Copts were stolen, their fields and plants uprooted, and Coptic-owned shops were attacked and looted.
Looting and burning
It was the eve of Eid al-Adha—the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice—and rumours were circulated that the 20-year-old Coptic man Hussam Naweil Attallah was having an affair with an 18-year-old Muslim woman. A Muslim crowd gathered and violently demonstrated against the Copts who took to the protection of their homes. Chanting jihadi slogans, the mob attacked Coptic-owned homes with kerosene bottles and gas cylinders. The village houses, on the roofs of which residents traditionally stock reed and straw, instantly caught fire. The residents began to put out the fires as the fire trucks and security forces converged on the village and brought matters under control. Three houses were burnt to the ground, others were plundered and set on fire, cattle and poultry were burnt alive, and shops were looted and set aflame.
The security authorities held Attallah and the Muslim girl to ensure their personal security, two of the Muslim rebel-rousers were detained and an investigation is underway. The girl was released early next day and went back home, but Attallah is still held.
A curfew was imposed till the early hours of Tuesday when the dawn prayers began.
On Wednesday the Copts who went to work in their fields found their lands damaged and plants uprooted.
Damages are estimated at some EGP340,000.
Several of the villagers told Watani that the Muslim girl, who is a relative of the village mayor Abdel-Moniem Tantawi, was seen with Attallah on the road leading to the village cemetery. The girl lives together with her two sisters in a home adjacent to that of the Attallahs. The girls are orphans, and the Attallahs used to act towards them with neighbourly compassion and friendliness.
Abdullah Attallah, Hussam’s uncle, told Watani that the Copts had sensed the general malaise that gripped the village on Monday and heard rumours that the Copts would be attacked. Security was heightened in the village; “one truck stood outside my brother’s house, which is quite close to mine, for protection. As evening approached the riots began. The security truck had to move north of the village to control the situation there. This made us fearful, so I took my aged mother and went to a cousin who lives close by and whose house is much sturdier than ours. We found four other cousins and their families there. We went up to the higher floor to observe matters. Suddenly crowds gathered in the street and began hurling stones at the security truck which had to leave until additional forces arrived. The mob then began attacking our house; the attacks came form all sides; they put our house on fire using fireballs and gas cylinders. The gas cylinders had been stolen from a store owned by another of our cousin who acts as a distributor for gas cylinders. We tried to put out the fire but the water and lights were out and, by the time the security forces and fire trucks arrived, we had lost everything. We thank God there were no losses in lives, our women and children escaped unscathed.”
“Is it fair?”
Rights activist Ra’fat Samir of Luxor confirmed that preliminary investigations indicate there was nothing socially unacceptable between the young man and woman, which meant, he said, that some person or group were behind arousing the unrest. He called for uncovering the truth and bringing the culprits to justice. “In whose interest,” he asked, “should sectarian violence be instigated now, following a few months of relative calm after the Nag Hammadi and Marsa Matrouh violence earlier this year?”
Bishop of Nag Hammadi Anba Kyrillos told Watani that there was nothing whatsoever to indicate the young Copt and Muslim were having an affair, and that the villagers suspect the mayor may be behind the rumour that caused the rioting. Anba Kyrillos reminded that the Nag Hammadi district had been the scene of sectarian tension since November last year, and it is not wise to allow a culture of hatred to take hold. The culprits should be caught and brought to justice, he said.
“Is it fair,” Anba Kyrillos said, “that a person should be held guilty of a crime with not a shred of evidence? And is it just that the entire Coptic community in a village should be meted collective punishment for a crime which never took place in the first instance?”