29 August 2010
Last Tuesday, some 50 young Copts from the village of al-Uzeib, in Samalout, Minya, Upper Egypt, held a sit-in at the grounds of St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Abbasiya, Cairo. The young villagers protested what they described as the climate of terror imposed upon them by their fellow Muslim villagers, who belonged to strong, influential families. These families tyrannised the Copts into paying tribute money, and performing forced work, severely underpaid. The Copts are frequently forced to sell them land, houses, or cattle at the ludicrous prices. When the Coptic villagers attempt to report such practices to the police, the officers refuse to file any complaints. The sit-in of last Tuesday was triggered by the most recent incident against a Coptic villager in Uzeib. According to the protesters, the 20-year-old Copt Ernest Bushra was badly beaten by a Muslim man called Fathy Gabra, resulting in a head injury and bruises in various parts of the body. When Bushra headed to the police station to file a complaint last Sunday, he was detained at Samalout police station for more than three days on the pretext that the police were searching for Gabra. When Gabra finally turned himself in, it was, according to eye-witness reports, with self-inflicted injuries and a medical report. The police turned the tables on Bushra, which inflamed Coptic anger. The incident brought home all the injustice they had suffered under for years on end. When they demonstrated before the police station in Samalout, they received threats that the Muslims would take their revenge on the Coptic women and children. The Coptic villagers told horror stories of conditions in their village. A Muslim villager, Mahmoud Shehata, was said to have tied a young Coptic man to a tree and subjected him to severe beatings. When the Coptic man’s father attempted to save his son, the father was beaten too. The police did nothing. The Coptic protestors called for help from all authorities and human rights to save them from what they called the ‘human tragedy’ they have been living through. They demanded that human rights organisations send fact-finding committees to their village to report on the regular abuses they had to undergo and the absolute apathy of the officials and security authorities.