A courtesy meeting was convened between representatives of the Copts and
Muslims of the Luxor village of Mehidat on Thursday 30 March to bring about
peace following the tensions earlier that week. Local MPs attended the session.
Luxor prosecution had ordered the detention of nine Muslims pending
investigation for their role in an attack against the Coptic villagers of al-Mehidat in
the district of al-Udaisat in al-Toud, Luxor. It also ordered that the perpetrator of
the attack, 19-year- old lbrahim Muhammad, who is unemployed and is still at large
and wanted by the police, be caught together with 16 others. The nine detainees
were charged with mobbing, damaging public property—a police vehicle, resisting
authorities, and causing injuries to eight policemen.
Muhammad had circulated a rumour in Mehidat that a Coptic young woman, 17-
year-old Amira Girgis, was in love with him and wished to marry him, and had
thus converted to Islam. Her family, he said, would not let her do so and took her
away from the village to imprison her in some convent or monastery. He posted
photographs of Girgis in a headscarf, and cried out that “our Muslim sister is being
held against her will and forced to remain Christian! Oh faithful Muslims, rescue
Muslim crowds from four neighboring villages converged on Mehidat, threatening
to attack the Copts if they didn’t produce Girgis. The Copts were livid; Girgis’s
family claimed that Muhammad had been chasing their daughter in a very
unsightly manner and, in order to protect her from his unwanted approaches and
also since she must sit for her Secondary School Certificate finals in a few weeks,
they took her away from the village. As to her photo with the headscarf, which was
claimed by Muhammad to be Islamic higab, they explained that it was part of the
school uniform forced upon Christian girls as well as their Muslim fellow-students.
It is almost a month now that Girgis has been away from the village.
The local security officials attempted to calm matters by asking Girgis’s family to
bring her to the village for her to announce before council that included a local
MP, a security official, and five Muslim representatives whether or not she had
converted. This outraged the Copts since, according to the law, no under-age
person is allowed to take the life-changing decisions of conversion or marriage.
They could not condone that a young Coptic woman should be so terrorised as to
be made to stand before fundamentalist Muslims who would be sure to tear her to
pieces if she denounced Islam. Besides, the Copts bitterly said, “isn’t it ironic that
when one of our daughters disappears and the police claim she has converted or
married a Muslim, her family is never allowed to see her no matter how much they
plead. Now they want us to bring the girl to some Muslim who claims she has
converted for him to take her away!”
Father Sarabamon al-Shayeb of the Monastery of the Saints in al-Toud deplored
the request of the police, insisting it was an attempt to bring the Copts to their
knees. For their part, both Coptic activists in Luxor Mikhail Gedees and Safwat
Samaan said that Mehidat was a Muslim Brotherhood hotbed and that the entire
matter was an abominable attempt to oppress the Copts and destroy national unity.
“The State should never give in to that, otherwise it loses authority and dignity,”
The evening of Thursday 23 March saw Muslims from Mehidat and four
neighboring villages surround the Copts houses in the village and clamour for
Girgis to be produced. They threatened that if their demands were not met by noon
the following day, they would attack the Copts. The Copts kept to their homes in
Following Friday noon prayers on 24 March, the Muslims marched towards the
Copts’ houses shouting Islamic slogans and shrieking: “We want Amira!” But they
were confronted by the security forces who had already surrounded the Copts’
houses, and who had to use tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.
The clashes left three police officers and five policemen injured. The police caught
nine demonstrators but was still searching for Muhammad and his accomplices.
According to Gedees, these accomplices include Ammar Habaasby Ahmed, a
peasant; Ahmad Gamal Hammad, a peasant and trader; Hussein Sayed Darwish, an
irregular construction labourer; and Ra’fat Muhammad Adam, a schoolteacher.
The morning of 26 March witnessed a demonstration by the students of al-Udeisi
Secondary School, the school Girgis used to go to, demanding “our sister
Amira”—the term ‘sister’ is used by Muslims to denote Muslim women. The
police met them a little distance from school and send them back. Apparently,
peace is not back yet in Mehidat.
The courtesy session held last Thursday was met with harsh criticism on social
media; it was described as an attempted ‘conciliation session’. Conciliation
sessions are out-of- court settlements traditionally arbitrated by village elders to put
an end to local disputes and bring about peace. But when Copts are a party to the
dispute, these sessions have been notorious for forcing the Copts, through pressure
and threats, to agree to oppressive terms of conciliation and to relinquish all their
Safwat Samaan, director of the Luxor-based rights group Watan Bila Hudoud,
literally Homeland with no Borders, said the criticism waged at the courtesy
session was misplaced, since there was no agreement and no terms the Copts were
required to accept. “It was simply an apology offered by the local leaders to
Amira’s family, and a calming-down of the situation.” The local mosque imam
said that there was no proof Amira had converted. “There’s no point in criticising
those who organised the meeting or those who attended it,” Mr Samaan said.
“Peace has been attained, which was important for the village, especially for the
Copts who engage in trade relations with the village Muslims.
2 April 2017