Going home to what?
Two days ago, a number of Coptic families who had left their homes and taken refuge at the church of Mar-Yuhanna (St John) in the hamlet of Nag Sheikh Hassaan in Luxor, or who had left the hamlet altogether in fear
Two days ago, a number of Coptic families who had left their homes and taken refuge at the church of Mar-Yuhanna (St John) in the hamlet of Nag Sheikh Hassaan in Luxor, or who had left the hamlet altogether in fear, were able to return home. Out of 120 families whose members make some 700 individuals, 70 families returned home. These families had fled in the wake of a mass assault against them by a mob of Muslim villagers. Four Copts lost their lives, three lie in hospital suffering critical injuries, and more than 23 Coptic houses have been plundered, ruined, and many of them burned. The Coptic families who returned home were those whose houses were not a total ruin.
Four Copts killed
Safwat Samaan who heads the Homeland without Boundaries human rights centre in Luxor told Watani that the prosecution was investigating the case and assessing the extent of damage inflicted upon the Copts of Nag Hassaan. He said 30 Muslim villagers were charged with the murder of four Copts and the intended murder of three others; terrorising peaceful civilians,
and the destruction of more than 23 houses. A number of those charged are in hiding, only 16 have been caught.
The events started on the evening of Thursday 4 July and continued well into the following day and evening. A Muslim villager, Hassaan Sedqy, was killed and his body found next to the homes of the Copts. This was the day following the ouster of Egypt’s previous president, the Islamist Muhammad Mursi. The village Muslims waged a vicious attack against the Coptic villagers and their homes, killing the Tamarud movement coordinator in the village Emile Nessim Sarophim, 40—Tamarud is the grassroots movement which rallied for the ouster of Mursi and his Islamist regime—as well as Muharib Noshy Habib, 22; Rumani Noshy Habib, 23; and Rassem Tawadros, 53. The mob plundered and looted the Copts’ homes, destroyed what they did not loot, and set fire to what remained. All in all, they ruined the homes of some 120 Coptic families. The police evacuated the women and children who fled to the village church for refuge, but the men were left to their fate.
Clubbed to death
The quiet, seemingly peaceful, Nag Hassaan hamlet lies within the Dabiya village district some 13km south of Luxor’s West Bank. But the peace is a fake illusion; it is the dazed quiet that follows ruin. The local Mar-Yuhanna church courtyard and buildings have hosted refugees for over a week now. The women in black mourning are sitting on the ground, still in tears at the calamity that has befallen them. The men are grieved and at a loss; they cannot contemplate
the prospect that awaits them after having lost everything, not least their security. Even after the debilitating loss, they are now being threatened by the village Islamists if they dare give the prosecution the names of those who attacked them.
Sarophim’s home is a total ruin. Nothing remains but the scorched walls, the furniture is a heap of rubble and the electric utilities no more than warped metal frames and scorched wiring. Sarophim’s widow says that, as they felt the mob approach their home on Friday, he hid himself behind some huge sacks of wheat in their storeroom while she took their two children and fled to the safety of the home of their neighbours, the Habibs. Minutes later, the mob attacked; Sarophim ran out into the dark fields, but the assailants ran after him, fetched him out, beat him up and stabbed him, and hit him on the head repeatedly. He was later found by the police and carried to hospital where, before he breathed his last, he told of the names of those who had attacked him.
In the meantime, the police were able to hold the mob at bay till they evacuated the women and children, but refused to let the men go despite the pleas and tears of the women and children.
The story of the Habib family is typical of those of several other of the Coptic families. They were preparing for the wedding of their daughter in two weeks’ time—many Copts hold weddings at that time since there are no fasts then. Yet the loss of lives, homes, and property turned the joy into grief.
On Thursday evening, once the body of Sedqy was discovered, tension gripped the hamlet.
The Muslim villagers were livid, and accused the Copts of having killed him, but they had no evidence to back their claim. During Friday prayers the following day, the Copts felt something ominous was up when the mosque microphone was muted, a totally irregular act. Many Copts left the hamlet since they sensed trouble brewing.
At around 6pm, a Muslim mob surrounded the Coptic quarter in the hamlet. They started with Sarophim’s house, whose family fled to the neighbouring Habibs, as did the Tawadros family, all of whom are neighbours. The Copts called the police.
Girgis Habib, brother of the two Habibs who were killed, says that the police evacuated only the women and children. When they saw him holding his twins and trying to protect them, the police took him off with the women and children. But no other men were allowed on the police vehicle. “They took us to the church, but left the criminals to attack our men, and vandalise and burn our homes.”
The Catholic researcher Mary al-Sameen posted a story she said she took from Anba Y’annis Zakariya, Bishop of the Coptic Catholics in Luxor. Sameen says that, according to Anba Yu’annis, the prosecution’s investigation proved the innocence of the Copts who were accused of killing Sedqy. Sedqy’s sister testified that it was Sedqy’s brother who killed him when he discovered an illicit relation between Sedqy and that brother’s wife. The sister, Sameen says, is now under pressure to rescind her testimony. “Till when,” Anba Yu’annis says, “will the Copts be victimised and used as scapegoats in problems they have nothing to do with? Even now, the families of the dead are being threatened to give no information to the police, and to ‘conciliate’ with the aggressors instead. So far, the Copts have resisted these threats.”
Hard days ahead
During the Third Day Prayers that were held for the Coptic victims, and over which Anba Pimen, Bishop of Naqada and Qous presided, he gave a strong-worded sermon that had the congregation break into applause several times.
Anba Pimen told the mourners that Pope Tawadros was following their case very closely,
especially with the relevant authorities. He insisted that there can be no ‘conciliation’—a traditional ‘conciliation’ between victim and aggressor requires the victim to relinquish all legal rights—until the legal proceedings take their course.
“Do not be scared, be strong,” Anba Pimen said. “The Church has offered so many martyrs before, and will continue to offer others. Among the most recent who met their death because they believed in Christ was Father Mina Aboud of Arish. The coming days will be even harder, and many people will die and earn the crown of everlasting glory. No one will be spared; neither bishops, priests or laity.
“We pray continuously for Egypt, which was blessed by Christ, and for our Church. We must never forget that ‘the gates of hell will not prevail against her’. We do not fear and will not fear; we are not wicked neither are we cowards; but we have the spirit of God inside us. So I say: do not fear.
“Be men; don’t ever give up your rights, don’t conceal the truth or be afraid to testify. God will protect you; He is the God of truth. Material losses come and go, but the blood that was spilt and the spirit can never be restored.”
The congregation broke into applause when Anba Pimen said: “Why should any of you be afraid? What have you to lose now? Your homes and property have been vandalised and your brothers killed; if you get killed we’ll pray for you, but don’t lose courage; don’t lose honour. And if we cannot get our rights by law here and now, heavenly justice will never fail us.”
13 July 2013