Last week’s editorial was published under the title “Minya Independent Islamic Republic” and dealt with the lack of law enforcement where Copts are concerned, notably in Minya some 250km south of Cairo. Copts are attacked and their attackers run free under the pretext that the victims have ‘reconciled’ with their attackers, and all’s well that ends well. I wrote that, apart from the fact that it does not ‘end well’ for the Copts, traditional ‘conciliation’ throws to the wind the rule of law and authority of the State.
The editorial had barely been printed when news informed that Minya MPs and Beit al-Aila had engineered conciliation between the Muslims
of the Minya village of Abu-Yacoub and their Coptic victims. Beit al-Aila is a quasi-official body led by al-Azhar and including representatives of al-Azhar, the Church, and Muslim and Coptic laymen. It was formed some five years ago with the objective of aborting sectarian conflict but is today notorious for covering up on it. On Monday 25 July, Cairo papers carried headlines that read: “A gathering of love and tolerance … Minya MPs and Beit al-Aila quell the fire of sedition in Abu-Yacoub”.
Impartial analysts have unanimously agreed that the seemingly unending attacks against Copts in Minya throughout the last three years are basically acts of criminal, unbridled terrorism the perpetrators of which usurp the law. They take advantage of the feebleness of the State to get away with their crimes, secure in the fact that they will never be taken to account. It has become standard practice by the authorities to falsify the truth through representing the crime as ‘sectarian sedition’; criminal and victim are put on the same footing. The fact that the offender is a Muslim criminal and the victim a peaceful, oppressed Copt is totally disregarded. The by-now standard scenario proceeds to orchestrate a disastrous ‘conciliation session’ between victim and offender; it matters not that the victim would more often than not be pressured, threatened, and coerced into ‘conciliating’, thereby giving up all legal rights and ‘agreeing’ to oppressive, unjust conciliation terms.
The session features speeches by those who sponsored the ‘conciliation’: the local elders who are mostly Muslim, and the local politicians and security officials. The rhetoric is overly honeyed and displays an exceptional capacity to falsify the facts, underrate logic and reason, and embellish the crime. The grand finale: victims and offenders sign the written conciliation agreement which requires the victims to withdraw all legal complaints.
Once the complaints are withdrawn and the conciliation agreement is handed to the prosecution, the prosecution releases all the detainees caught on account of the crime, and the crime is effectively wiped off. Sadly, the by-now standard police practice is to catch a number of the victimised Copts and charge them with something like ‘rioting’, since the fact that conciliation would involve the release of the Coptic detainees together with the Muslim offenders comes in as a handy tool to pressure the Copts into conciliating.
Had such disastrous conciliation been confined to oppressed victim and criminal offender, it would have been lamentable enough. But the farce is complete when representatives of the law, the State, and the community play active roles in the conciliation. Their participation endows the crime with legitimacy and legality, it oppresses the victim, acquits the criminal, sidelines the law, and renounces the right of civil society to rightful retribution.
The question which begs an answer is how can crimes of inciting hate, rioting, terrorising peaceful citizens, assault, plundering and looting, destruction and arson be waived for the mere fact that victim and offender have—whether or not in good faith is besides the point—reconciled? Where is the right of civil society? The only answer is that the State has relinquished its dignity and the rule of law and has become complicit in a crime that dwarfs the original one: it covers up on wrongdoing, protects criminals, and deceives public awareness.
Lest anyone think I am resisting peaceful coexistence between Egypt’s Muslims and Copts, I will here print a few miserable passages from the news coverage on the Abu-Yacoub conciliation session. You will see for yourself how the real crime is downplayed and the conciliation depicted as a return to the ‘affection and sympathy’ lost between Egyptians.
• “Minya MPs, jointly with Beit al-Aila and the security apparatus have drawn the curtain over the sectarian sedition at Abu-Yacoub, under the motto: ‘No fanaticism; no sectarianism; our homes are all Egyptian homes’.” How nice!
• “The village mayor stressed that conciliation was a result of a candid discussion where each party was informed of the wrongs committed. It was agreed that the Muslims would compensate the Copts for their losses. The official complaints were withdrawn and the prosecution released all the detainees.” How nice!
• “MP Osman al-Muntassir said that Egypt was targeted and some worked to sow sedition and division, but that Egyptians were adamant about foiling all attempts at sedition.” How nice!
• “MP Sayed Abu-Breidea said that we are a State of law and order, and all Egyptians are equal before the law. The authorities see to it that the needs of citizens are answered, and that they lift their heads high in dignity and freedom.” How nice!
• “Beit al-Aila’s Adel Meseilha said that the conciliation agreement stipulated that the Muslims should compensate the Copts for their losses, and that anyone who violates the agreement would be fined EGP50,000. All swore never to go back to disputes or violence.” How wonderful!
The entire matter is a disastrous farce, but perhaps more catastrophic is that the prosecution released all the detainees. Where does the rule of law stand from all this? And where is the right of civil society?