Saturday 30 September 2023

From the archive of Abdelrahim Ali

The disgraceful case of the lady in Minya

Abdelrehim Aly

Published Monday, June 20, 2022

It is a disgrace for all of us, if we, as citizens, and the state do not take proper action to give the rule of law its due respect and bring public morals, magnanimity and masculinity back to their strength.

How can Egyptians allow some of them strip an elderly woman of her clothes and force her to walk like this on the streets of the village, not because of a sin she committed, but because of rumours about her son having an affair with a female Muslim neighbour.

In fact, similar incidents took place in different governorates and cities, opening the door for major problems, a tragedy that recurs every now and then, in the absence of decisive intervention by the rule of law. 

It is high time that we opened this wound, which has turned by time and repetition into a real tragedy, so that we can protect our country against the conspiracies concocted against it.

That tragedy began – in my view – with the rule of the late President Anwar Sadat.

Sadat made a famous reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, leading to the estrangement of the men and symbols of the Nasser era. 

A fact-finding committee was formed and headed by Gamal al-Otaifi. The committee drafted a report, in which it indicated the causes of turmoil in relations between Muslims and Christians. It also developed an effective programme to address those problems.

The programme continues to be present until this day.

However, Sadat handed over the whole file to the formerly State Security agency, after the report was praised by the parliament.

The events of al-Zawiya al-Hamra were an early example of the way the State Security agency handled that file.

President Sadat explained what his interior minister Ennabawi Ismail had written to him.

He stressed that the issue was nothing more than a quarrel between a Muslim family and a Christian family around drops of rotten water that fell from the balcony of one of them on washed clothes of the other.

The irony in this vision is that the events were a final rehearsal for the show of force carried out by violent religious groups in Egypt prior to the assassination of Sadat himself.

The biggest irony was that this story was told by the president himself.

The situation was not much different in the 1990s, when a wave of violence swept through our country with Jamaa Islamiyya group taking some Copts as hostages to force the regime to meet its demands.

Away from the persecution of the Copts in the 1990s in Minya, Assiut, Sohag and Qena, which included punishing them at the mosques run by Jamaa Islamiyya in Upper Egypt, in full view and hearing from the security services. 

Attacks against the Copts reached their climax at that stage, which witnessed the killing of more than 100 Copts in separate incidents.

Security services insisted that these attacks were mere individual incidents carried out by some insane people who did not know their faith well.

'Monastery of Muharraq', 'Damiana', 'Izbat al-Aqbat', 'Ezbet Daoud' and 'Timsahiyah' are all names that were mentioned previously. They are the names of villages and monasteries that witnessed heinous massacres against the Copts between 1994 and 1997. These massacres claimed dozens of lives. The state continued to deal with the issue with the same the style, insisting that they were not sectarian events, but individual events. Nobody was brought to court in these incidents and consequently no verdicts were passed against their perpetrators. This was the real tragedy, one that did away with the prestige of the rule of law, in a country that used to boast of its civilization that dates thousands of years back. 

The same country allows the construction of pubs, gambling casinos, and discotheques. It thinks a thousand times before approving the the construction of a house of worship for our Christian brothers.

It has been revealed to me, Mr. President, during almost quarter a century of close observation of this file, that most of the causes of sedition stem from not allowing the building of churches.

They also arise from laxity in applying the law to everyone and respecting the prestige of the state. 

That a minor is allowed to marry just because she is a Christian who loves a Muslim young man and wants to marry him, and how does the law in Egypt allow the appointment a guardian for that minor other than her family and allows her to change religion? What if this is done with a Muslim girl?

It is a problem of applying and implementing a law on the necks everyone without political or religious considerations.

In al-Adaysat in Luxor, al-Ayat in Giza, Minqeet in Samalout, and many other cities, ordinary Muslims began burning churches, in which Copts worshiped for years.

They did this against the background of rumours that Copts were on their way to restore them or build walls that were demolished without permission from the state.

The question here is how did these simple Muslims turn into extremists?

These actions were, for many periods, limited to a category of terrorists with specific political demands. So what happened? 

The strange thing is that no one asks this question and no one seriously seeks to answer it. Apart from the question we asked, we believe the solution is very simple and within the reach of the state. 

The state is the only authority that sanctions the construction and restoration of churches and the protection of worshipers in them.

However, it seems to me that some people wanted to put this file on a hot tin roof to manoeuvre with it at times. 

The Copts have specific demands, Mr. President. They demand the formulation of a unified law for building places of worship.

They also demand practical solutions to the problem of their political representation, removing sectarian tensions by creating a law that stipulates respect for beliefs and the prohibition of the incitement of sedition.