The recent crime against Copts in the village of al-Karm—also pronounced al-Karam––in Minya, some 250km south of Cairo, has left Egyptians—especially Copts—aghast with shock and pain. On a rumour that a Coptic man was having an affair with a Muslim woman, the 68-year-old Coptic woman Suad Thabet was dragged from her home into the street, stripped naked and beaten up by three Muslim men while a Muslim mob looked on. The attack also left six Coptic homes—homes in rural Egypt are large and house extended families—burnt, as well as a Copt-owned plastics warehouse. Two Coptic men, Danial Ayad and his son Ayad were injured. Danial is the husband of Thabet; they are the parents of Ashraf Ayad who was rumoured to be in liaison with the Muslim woman. Minya prosecution is questioning the 19 suspects caught by the police; till Watani International went to press, two more suspects had not yet been caught, but investigations were ongoing.
The story goes back to 19 May when, in the wake of a rumour of an affair between the Copt Ashraf Danial Ayad and the Muslim woman Nagwa Ragab, both in their early 30s, Ayad received threats to him and his family. The threats were directly reported to the police. Islam bans any relation or marriage between Muslim women and non-Muslim men, even though it allows such liaisons in case of Muslim men and non-Muslim women. Ayad hurriedly fled the village with his wife and four daughters. His old parents, however, remained.
According to a statement by Anba Makarius, Bishop of Minya and Abu-Qurqas: “The following day a group of some 300 men set off at 8.00pm, armed with various weapons, and broke into seven Copt-owned homes and property. They looted their belongings then set a number of them on fire. The losses have been so far estimated at EGP350,000.
“The assaulters stripped an elderly Christian woman of her clothes, cheering and defaming her in front of a large crowd in the street. Security arrived at 10pm….”
Anba Makarius went on to say: “We are confident that such behaviour cannot be condoned by any honourable citizen. We trust that the State apparatuses will not just look on. We thank in advance the security apparatus, and are confident they will spare no effort to catch all involved [in the attack] and hold them accountable.”
Ms Thabet testified that the Muslim mob which assaulted her was led by Nazeer Ishaq Ahmad, the husband of the Muslim woman; his father Ishaq Ahmad; and his brother Abdel-Moniem Ishaq Ahmad.
The police caught five suspects on the first day, among them Nazeer Ishaq Ahmad. The two other Ahmads were caught a few days later, together with 12 other suspects.
The incident caused widespread anger among the Copts who demanded that Minya governor and security chief be taken to account. The Egypt Council of Churches and Coptic organisations inside and outside Egypt condemned the incident in strong language, and demanded that justice should be served. Many Copts as well as activists demanded the dismissal of Minya governor and security chief for their responsibility in what was termed ‘security failure to protect the Copts, to the point of allowing the appallingly disgraceful assault of an old woman, stripping and beating her up while no official lifted a finger to rescue her’. Ms Thabet was in fact finally rescued by a Muslim neighbour who took her into his home.
Minya MP Magdy Melek told Watani that he had called Interior Minister Magdy Abdel-Ghaffar to complain against the incident and to demand an end to the rampant practice of Coptic communities being collectively punished for a violation, or the mere rumour of a violation, committed by a Coptic individual. Mr Melek said the Interior Minister agreed that the practice was totally unacceptable and should never be tolerated by the police. He promised that the recent Minya incident would be thoroughly investigated, and that justice would be served.
A young Coptic reporter, Remon Nagy, created a hashtag under the title ‘Egypt has been stripped naked’. In a few hours it gathered more than 3000 followers.
President Sisi: Justice should be served
On 26 May, the Presidency of Egypt issued a statement concerning al-Karm attack. It declared that “the Presidency was following closely the measures taken with respect to the sad events”. President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, the statement said, had instructed all State apparatuses concerned to take the necessary steps to preserve public order, protect people and property within the rule of law, hold accountable those who ignited these clashes and refer them to the competent judicial authorities.
According to the statement, the President instructed the governor of Minya, in coordination with the Armed Forces, to repair and restore the properties damaged in the clashes within one month of the date of the statement, at the expense of the State.
Monday 30 May the military started repairing the burned homes in al-Karm. They began with the Ayad home which is formed of three floors occupied by the [extended] family, as well as a ground floor used for commercial activity.
While opening a new State-financed housing project in Muqattam, Cairo, that same Monday, President Sisi again referred to al-Karm incident, saying that the law must be applied and the culprits brought to justice no matter who or how many they were. He apologised to Ms Thabet, asking her kindly to “not despair”.
Pope Tawadros II who is on a visit to Austria for the double aim of pastoral and medical purposes, called Thabet. In a voice shaken with emotion, he offered her words of support and comfort, and assured her that Anba Makarius was in charge of the entire matter and would respond to her and her husband’s needs.
“We want our dignity”
Sources close to the Ayads, including Ms Thabet’s lawyer Ihab Ramzy, have been complaining of pressure applied on the family by local politicians and civil society groups to ‘reconcile’ with the attackers, meaning that Ms Thabet should then withdraw the official complaint she filed with the police. The Ayads have adamantly refused to do so.
Mr Ramzy expressed his wariness that the police would deliberately not furnish the prosecution with the evidence to sufficiently incriminate Ms Thabet’s attackers. He talked of public figures and officials who cast doubts in the media on the severity of the stripping and beating incident, or on whether it occurred in the first place.
The State-sponsored Islamic institution of al-Azhar, the Cairo-based topmost Islamic authority in the world, sent a 40-man delegation to Minya to contain the situation, while the Ministry of Religious Endowments said that more than 20 preachers would be sent to Minya to organise dialogue between the conflicting sides.
Minya Governor Tarek Hassan Nasr persuaded a reluctant Mr Ayad to accompany him to an event sponsored by Beit al-A’ila (Family Home), an entity formed by al-Azhar and the Coptic Church, in an effort to bring about social peace. The governor gave Mr Ayad a closed envelope which contained EGP5,000 as [meagre] compensation for his losses. Mr Ayad returned the envelope on the spot saying: “What we want is our dignity. The money of the whole world will do us no good.”
Monday 30 May MP John Talaat said that, according to Minister of Legal Affairs Magdy al-Agati, a number of Abu-Qurqas security men have been detained for ignoring the complaints of threats, filed by the Copts on 19 May. Judge Agati revealed nothing about the number of those detained or their ranks.
The Copts and their Church are adamant that, this time, they will not give in to any efforts at ‘fostering social peace’ through the traditional conciliatory efforts termed “Reconciliation sessions”. These arbitration sessions presided over by local community elders were common in rural Egypt to settle disputes and bring about swift justice and social peace. When the parties to a dispute were Muslim versus Copt, however, these sessions have been notorious for pressuring Copts, to the point of outright threats, into relinquishing their rights. They have also been famous for passing excessively harsh sentences on the Copts, more often than not fining them huge sums, confiscating property belonging to them, or forcing them to leave their villages or hometowns. [http://en.wataninet.com/coptic-affairs-coptic-affairs/sectarian/sweeping-the-law-aside-2/16545/]
Pope Tawadros has called for peace to reign between the Copts and Muslims of al-Karm, but explicitly said that justice should come first.
1 June 2016