Minya Copts coerced into ‘conciliation’

18-12-2013 07:21 PM

Nader Shukry- Tereza Hanna

The Coptic villagers of Nazlet Ebeid and Badraman in Minya, Upper Egypt, have been coerced into accepting ‘reconciliation’ with their Muslim attackers; ‘reconciliation’ is a traditional out of court settlement between adversaries at the hands of village elders with the purpose of maintaining peace.

 Reconciliation implies that the parties involved in a dispute—no matter how grave—relinquish all their legal rights. The practice has for decades on end been notorious for being applied in the case of attacks against Copts; the Copts are pressured—in many cases forced—to ‘reconcile’ with their attackers and give up all their rights.
To even the score
The Minya villages of Badraman and Nazlet Ebeid saw separate events of attacks against Copts in late November on account of a rumour of an illicit affair between a Muslim woman and a Coptic man in the former, and a dispute over a piece of land in the latter. Three men lost their lives during the attacks, two Muslims and one Copt.
One day later, a Coptic farmer Abdel-Massih Ayyad Fanous, 47, from Nazlet Ebeid was shot to death while on his way to his field, even though he had nothing to do with the previous day’s riots. The locals insist he was shot merely to even the score of the Coptic/Muslim deaths. Even though this may sound ridiculous to the outside world, it is plausible in a community where local tradition holds that a Copt can never be allowed to kill or get away with killing a Muslim, but not the other way round. 
Police in Minya detained eight Copts from Badraman and 11 from Nazlet Ebeid. The villagers say that the Copts detained were caught randomly for the purpose of pressuring the Copts into conciliation. They say that during the early hours of Saturday 30 November, the police broke into the homes of the Copts in Badraman and Nazlet Ebeid and caught a number of men from each of the villages.
Muslim Brother influence
The locals bitterly complain of the Muslim Brothers (MB) influence in the villages, and their infiltration of the security apparatus there. 
In Badraman especially, where Muslim/Coptic tensions that had risen owing to a rumour of an illicit affair between a Muslim woman and Coptic man had been contained by the village elders, the local Muslim Brothers incited the Muslim villagers to attack the Copts. The result was a vicious rampage against the Coptic villagers; four were seriously injured including the 12-year-old Yvonne Bushra Ekladius who was thrown to the street out of her second-floor home; six Coptic-owned homes and a number of shops were looted and set on fire.
Coptic youth activists have severely criticised the manner in which the police in Minya handled the attacks in Nazlet Ebeid and Badraman, and accused the police of outright complicity with the Muslim attackers.
They go so far as to claim complicity between the MB and the security officials who have been tyrannising the Copts and at the same time downplaying their losses to the point of claiming “the losses were not extensive” even though some 30 Coptic houses were looted and set on fire during the riots.
Ezzat Ibrahim, a local rights activist, reported that the police collected arms and weapons from the Coptic but not the Muslim villagers, a move he decries as reeking of sectarian discrimination since it leaves the Copts defenceless before the armed Muslims should any dispute arise. The police has a notorious reputation of arriving on the scene of sectarian violence only after the damage is done.
Detained and besieged
In case of Nazlet Ebeid where the riots had erupted between the Coptic-majority villagers and the Muslims of the Muslim-majority adjacent village of Hawarta, the Copts at first rejected the notion of unjust conciliation and insisted on the rule of law. They stood their ground for some 10 days, but finally had to succumb in view of the pressures they were subjected to. Their men were unfairly detained and would remain so until slow justice took its course. They were also being besieged and denied access to the only way which leads to their thriving businesses in the quarries which lie on the hills behind Hawarta. Anyone who left Nazlet Ebeid was attacked, even children going to school.
Finally, the conciliation was concluded basing on five conditions none of which accorded the Copts any rights or compensated them for their grave losses in homes or shops that had been looted before their eyes and set aflame. 
The reconciliation conditions stipulated that no diyya (blood-money) would be paid for any of the dead, and that the Copts of Nazlet Ebeid would not be allowed to build on the border with Hawarta. The violence had erupted on account of a Copt who had attempted to build a house on a plot of land he owned on the border between the two villages but the Muslims of Hawarta stopped him and attacked Nazlet Ebeid. One condition, however, was especially hard on the Copts since it decreed that they should not pass through Hawarta for two weeks. This meant their businesses in the quarries would be halted all that time; they claim a day’s halt in production costs them losses that amount to EGP3 million. 
Not blessed by the Church
Normally, ‘reconciliation session’ between Copts and Muslims are conducted at the hands of local politicians, security officials, village elders, sheikhs and representatives of the Church. In case of Nazlet Ebeid, the Church refused to be part of the conciliation, so the local officials brought in Fr Abanoub, a priest from the province of Assiut south of Minya, to represent the Church. Anba Macarius, Bishop-General of Minya, issued a declaration in which he rejected the conciliation and made it clear that the priest who took part in it had done so in violation of all Church rules and traditions which stipulate that he should have taken prior permission from the bishopric he did not belong to yet represented. Assiut bishopric, for its part, issued an official apology and explained that the priest in question, Fr Abanoub, was already suspended from service even before he participated in the conciliation.
“We are not participating in the reconciliation session; we never asked for it or recommended it”, Anba Macarius said in the declaration. “We totally reject conciliation sessions because they bypass the rule of law which should reign supreme. Such sessions destroy the State prestige and provide no root solutions to the long time problems Copts have been suffer from. I believe that these sessions are main reason behind the increase of sectarian incidents in the last few years.” 
No other choice
“That humiliating ‘reconciliation’ is the normal result to the absence of the rule of law”, said Antonius Adly of Nazlet Ebeid. “We have been attacked so many times and every time we accept to reconcile”, Adly said. “Regrettably, we have no other choice.” 
 “I was at home when the Hawarta villagers attacked. They went on a rampage, burning and destroying homes and tractors. They were large in number and were shooting and one of them shot at my leg. The police was there but did nothing at all”, said Botros Wagih, 32, who works in a quarry. Wagih believes the attack was not on account of the land dispute, but because the Copts are well-off and have successful businesses. “In fact,” he says, “most of the Muslims of other villages work for Coptic employers. The Muslims turned vengeful once the MB president Mursi was ousted last July. They steal our crops and apply all sort of terrorist tactics to force us to sell them our lands at very low prices.” 
Pressure on Badraman Copts
“The story that my brother Shenouda Louis Habib was in relationship with a Muslim woman is totally untrue,” says Eid Louis, brother of the man accused of making trysts with the woman. Mr Louis claims the allegation was made as an excuse to attack Copts since the woman in question was checked by a doctor and it was proved that she was a virgin. “So what proof do they have of the relationship they are talking about?” he asks.
Mr Louis’s house and that of his uncle Nabil were burnt down in the disturbance, his brother Reda was attacked and critically injured, and his mother was attacked, despite her age and poor health. The attackers tried to kidnap his young sister, but were unsuccessful.
“We hoped the police would intervene promptly, but that never happened. All the Copts had to stay at their homes and pray that God would protect and save them. And if [the Islamists] were angry about the behaviour of one person, why did they attack all the Copts and all their homes in the village? Now we are under pressure to reconcile; but we don’t understand why we should accept reconciliation today to be attacked again tomorrow. We see our homes burnt like pieces of coal, and the government will not compensate us when we accept reconciliation.”
Voluntary curfew
The disturbances lasted for two days and resulted in four Copts and four Muslims being injured, while eight houses owned by Copts were torched. One of these was a wooden house built by a carpenter, Nashed Youssef Fanous, which was totally destroyed. Others victims of the destruction were Hanna Adib, Bushra Fawzy Mina, Nader Anis, Milad Anis, Raouf Wifqy and Said Nagy Youssef. Twenty more houses were broken into and looted.
The disturbances lasted for two days and resulted in four Copts and four Muslims being injured, while eight houses owned by Copts were torched. One of these was a wooden house built by a carpenter, Nashed Youssef Fanous, which was totally destroyed. Others victims of the destruction were Hanna Adib, Bushra Fawzy Mina, Nader Anis, Milad Anis, Raouf Wifqy and Said Nagy Youssef. Twenty more houses were broken into and looted. 
“Since the riots we stay at home and don’t go out after 7pm, and when we do go out we are treated very badly,” one resident, Umm Youssef, told Watani.
Residents claim that neither the mayor, the governor, nor a single official enquired after their safety. They face claims that their losses were minimal, even though the damage was extensive.
“If the State is unable to protect us, we should have licensed guns to defend ourselves,” one resident said. “The police detain Copts and accuse them of attempted murder; so what do you think we can do when we are attacked with weapons and our homes are burned down? We have the right to defend ourselves according to the law.”
Even the frail attacked
Yvonne Bushra Ekladius suffered a horrific attack. A student in the third year of preparatory school, she sits with her mother huddled next to the fire in their simple home. Yvonne angrily says of the governor: “He didn’t even come to visit me to ask me the truth about what happened. When the attackers entered the house I ran to the roof but they ran after me, and threw me off the roof. My arms were broken and I had to crawl until I reached my uncle’s home. The attackers were trying as hard as they could to kill people. Even now we don’t know what we are supposed to have done and why we are attacked. Will we be attacked over any problem that happens with a Copt because we are Coptic as well? We live in fear, and soon I am going to have to sit the mid-year exams with a broken arm.”
A child’s nightmare
Tahany, who prefers to have only her first name cite for fear for herself and her son, ekes out living for herself and her child while her husband is away working in Cairo. “We heard about the attack on the Copts so we stayed at home and barricaded the door with wood,” she says. “But the attackers rammed the door until it broke down. They attacked me and tried to tear off my clothes, but my brother rushed to my rescue me and we ran up on the roof to escape. They beat my brother and stole everything in the house, including the goods I sell, and they set the house on fire. I have to stay at my neighbours’ now because we are afraid of being attacked again, especially since my brother has left because he serves in the army.” 
The attackers took books, a TV set and a receiver. “They wanted to take me, but I screamed and held on to my mom,” Tahany’s little boy says. “They beat my uncle and I am afraid now. I was afraid to go to school but the teachers gave me new books to replace the stolen ones and encouraged me to go back to school.”
Standing up to the mob
A widow with two daughters, who refused to have her name published, stayed at home like the other Copts. “While we were at home the attackers threw Molotov cocktails on our house and tried to enter it, but my daughters ran to the roof and threw stones on them while we cried ‘God save us!’ Then some of my Coptic neighbours rushed to our help us and the police came and blocked the road.”
Mariam, one of the daughters, said: “We saw them tearing up the Egyptian flag in the street. They then broke the windows of the school next door and tried to accuse us of being the ones who did it.” 
“The mob looted the house and carpentry workshop belonging to the carpenter, Mr Fanous, before setting it alight. “Thank God we were able to escape with the children,” Mr Fanous says. “My losses are estimated at EGP300,000, and the problem is that some people have paid me deposits and the items I made for them have been burnt. We had nothing to do at all with the alleged incident [that sparked off the trouble] and live a long way from the house where the it happened, but now we don’t have a home and I have lost my workshop.”
Compensation first
The Bishop of Deir Muwwas, Anba Aghapius, denounced the collective punishment for the Copts as unjustifiable. He is calling for a law that would put a stop on such attacks, which have increased noticeably since the Islamist regime of the MB president Muhammad Mursi was overthrown last July.  He asks why it is always Copts who pay the price, even if they are the victims. Now, he says, they under pressure to ‘reconcile’ although legal action should be taken with the criminals to avoid the recurrence of sectarian incidents. 
Father Andrawus Abdallah of Mar-Girgis church says there is a state of terror in the village. “Many Copts can’t go to work or school, and there are children who are to frightened to go to sleep,” he says. “The law wasn’t applied. The victims were detained, while the criminals are free and putting pressure on the Copts to reconcile and give up their legal rights. We need to apply the law instead of speaking about reconciliation sessions which the Church totally reject because, before any reconciliation, the Copts should be compensated, especially in the case of the very poor who have lost everything they have.”
Watani International
18 December 2013
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