Maged Samir- Tereza Hanna- Nader Shukry
20 Sep 2014 6:38 pm
A recent attack waged by the Copts of the village of Gabal al-Teir in Minya, Upper Egypt, on the local the police station has resulted in a brutal backlash by the police.
The story goes back to some two weeks ago when the 39-year-old Coptic woman Iman Sarofim, a mother of five children, left home and never showed up again. The woman’s family reported her disappearance, and the police promised to find her and bring her back.
It was discovered that the woman had left her family of her own accord, with the Muslim man Samy Ahmed al-Gilfi. Since the woman is no minor, it is impossible for the police to force her back home. Sarofim’s family and their neighbours and friends in Gabal al-Teir saw this as police failure and that the police had gone back on their promise.
No policeman charged
On Monday 16 September, Sarofim’s eldest daughter—a 17-year-old girl—went out into the village square crying and weeping that none of the villagers had been able to help bring back her mother. The women gathered around and sympathised with the girl; many started wailing and beating their breasts. The emotional scene moved the men and they headed to the police station in a demonstration to protest what they saw as police inaction. The protest turned violent when the Copts attacked the station with stones, rocks and Molotov bombs, damaging two police trucks and injuring three policemen. The police used tear gas to disperse the protestors.
In the late evening, the police broke into the homes of villagers suspected of the morning attack. They avenged themselves brutally by breaking furniture, robbing belongings, terrorising women and children, and leading the men out tied with ropes and pulled through the village streets as though they were beasts of burden. To say nothing of the horrible insults and abuse they used against the villagers. Some 35 men were caught, but 23 were directly released and 12 are still detained.
The senior police officers attempted to contain the crisis generated by the junior policemen by charging the detainees with “attack against policemen” instead of the actual “attack against a police station” since the latter falls under terrorist acts and warrants a harsh penalty. But none of the policemen was charged with any violation.
The media was up in arms against the police abuse and brutality. But all the complaints came from unnamed individuals.
Justice required equally
There are efforts by Minya politicians and rights activists to abort any potential fully-fledged sectarian crisis.
The al-Mubadara al-Shaabiya (The Popular Initiative) political party has called for concerted efforts by Muslim and Coptic village elders to bring about peace and justice.
“The police, the official authority charged with upholding the law, have themselves taken it into their own hands,” says Badr Sidrac, the founder of the Karama Insaniya (Human Dignity) movement in Upper Egypt, and prominent member of the al-Misriyeen al-Ahrar (The Free Egyptians) political party. Mr Sidrac insists that the brutal reaction of the police to the Copts’ attack was absolutely out of proportion. “Instead of catching only those suspected of the morning’s violations against the police,” he says, “they broke into the village very late at night, waged harsh collective penalty against their women and children, and intentionally violated the villagers’ homes and belongings.
“The police placed themselves in the position of adversary to the villagers; the villagers attacked the police station in the morning and the police attacked their homes at night. This cannot be accepted,” Mr Sidrac says. “Where is the law in all this? The villagers did violate the law and are being prosecuted, but how about the police? Justice should be imposed equally in case of everyone.”
20 September 2014