Intense efforts are ongoing, on both the official and people level, to bring peace to the populous district of Khusous northeast of Cairo in the wake of the attack against the Copts yesterday, which left eight dead and 20 injured. Qalyubiya governor Adel Zayed—Khusous is administratively affiliated to Qalyubiya—has been in contact with Shubral-Kheima Bishop Anba Morqos to work together to dissipate the tension. At the same time, Khusous moderates, Muslims and Copts, have been joining hands to rally for peace in their district.
The dead and injured
According to Father Sourial Younan of Mar-Girgis church in Khusous, among the eight who lost their lives are four Copts: Victor Saad Manqarious, 35, who was shot in the head; Morqos Kamal Mitry, 25, shot in the heart; Marzouq Attiya Nessim, 45, shot in the head and back; and Essam Qadri Zakhary, 37, shot in the heart. One Muslim, the 18-year-old Mohamed Mahmoud, died; and three bodies, according to Fr Sourial, have not yet been identified.
The 20 who lie in hospital suffering injuries are 17 Copts and three Muslims, Fr Sourial said.
The situation in Khusous is now one of cautious anticipation amid heightened security imposed by large numbers of well-equipped Qalyibiya security forces.
The attack began on Friday evening, and no one knows for sure how it all started. Eyewitnesses in Khusous have different stories to tell.
One story goes that the violence started in the wake of an argument between the members of a Muslim family and others of a Coptic one. The Coptic family is well-respected; one of their sons, Iskandar Ayad Iskandar who owns a house in Khusous is a former MP. The Iskandars live in an area of heavy Salafi presence, and the Salafis have been known to harass the Coptic women—among whom there were members of the Iskandar family—whom they insist are indecent because they are not veiled. The harassment incidents led to skirmishes between the Iskandars and the Salafis, which were contained by the local police. But the Salafis threatened they would retaliate by attacking the Copts’ homes and their church.
The second story says that yesterday’s violent attack was the outcome of Salafi harassment of Coptic women, while a third story goes that it was because of graffiti on the local mosque’s exterior walls. According to Major General Mahmoud Yusri, director of Qalyubiya Security, two Muslim boys wrote their names and drew swaztikas on the mosque walls. A worshipper who was leaving the mosque thought this was a cross and reprimanded the boys as a Copt, identified by Major-General Yusri as one ‘Milad’, passed by. Milad denounced the swastika and insisted it was not a Christian symbol; an argument that probably involved religions ensued; other passersby joined in; and the matter escalated into a street fight then into a wider, more violent assault.
The wide scale violence against the Copts came in response to a call through a mosque microphone to “purge the area of the ‘unclean’ Christians”. The Muslims marched against the Mar-Girgis (St George) church, while the Copts surrounded their church and placed iron barriers around it for protection. The Muslims shot at the Copts who fired back. The Copts called the police who only arrived more than an hour later, leading to bitter allegations by the Copts that the police or security forces were not serious in protecting them.
Matters calmed down once the police arrived, but this lasted for only about an hour. In the meantime, Fr Sourial was meeting with the elders of Khusous, with whom he enjoys excellent relations, to attempt to contain the matter, stressing that the Church was not party to the fight which brought on all the violence. But, at the same time, there were loud calls by extremist Muslims to attack the Copts, amid calls of “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is the Greatest).
After midnight, Coptic-owned houses were attacked, looted, and burned. Among them were houses that belonged to members of the Iskandar family; the elder of the family Samir Iskandar told Watani that he had earlier in the evening moved all the women and children of his family outside Khusous for fear for their safety. Coptic-owned shops were also plundered and set on fire. The Copts kept to their homes in terror; they cut off their power supply and made sure they had water and fire extinguishers on hand to put out any fires.
As the violence and gunfire escalated, the police used tear gas to disperse the crowds.
Eyewitnesses told Watani that the prime instigator who urged the Muslims to attack the Copts was Sheikh Mustafa al-Agalati who used his mosque microphone to egg the crowds on.
The Copts sent out, through their mobile phones, Twitter and Facebook accounts, calls for help and protection.
The Mar-Girgis church, even though heavily protected by the Copts and the police, did not escape damage; the pre-school church nursery which is housed a building close to the church, was set on fire.
When the Islamists saw that Mar-Girgis’s was too well-protected for them, they turned to the Protestant church in the area and attacked it with stones and Molotov bottles, but no damages occurred.
Two Iskandar brothers, Iskandar and Naguib, were summoned by the prosecution for questioning. Their father said he feared that his sons would be used as scapegoats to appease the Islamists, as happened last year when Copts in Abu-Qurqas in Upper Egypt were sentenced to life in prison to appease the Islamists. They contested the ruling against them and are now awaiting a retrial—but this is after spending months in prison.
Major general Yusri said that six persons, Muslims and Copts, had been caught for questioning.
6 April 2013