Copt thrown out of village over alleged attack

An Egyptian Christian has been thrown out of his village after it was alleged that he attacked a Muslim woman. The Coptic community has been forced to pay the equivalent of nearly 3,000 US dollars to the woman’s family, though they say the allegations are baseless.

Awad Zaki, 55, a Coptic blacksmith from a village in Beheira Governorate, northern Egypt, was owed money from a customer. After sending repeated reminders, he went in person to the house of Mohammed Sobhi Abu Ahmed to collect what he was owed, around 17 US dollars.

A quarrel broke out between the two men. Mohammed and his brother pulled Awad into the house. “They tried to hold him in one of the rooms, accusing him of trying to assault Mohammed’s wife, but Awad managed to escape,” said Medhat Gamil, a local villager.

The Coptic community said that after Awad left the house he was followed home by members of Mohammed’s family, who then attacked him and his family with sticks.

“My uncle Awad is an old man and he could not do that,” said Sameh Mansour, one of Awad relatives. “This doesn’t make sense… He is a married and very religious man and has worked for years without doing anything immoral.”

When police arrived, they arrested Awad, his brother and nephew. Their mobile phones were confiscated at the police station and they were beaten.

According to Medhat, dozens of Muslim villagers gathered in Awad’s neighbourhood and attacked the Coptic homes. “They threw stones and bricks, breaking the windows of three homes and destroying some of their contents,” Medhat said. “They destroyed a glass shop and book shop owned by Copts, and injured five Copts, including one woman. Some of them threw petrol bombs on roofs of houses, trying to set them on fire, but the owners put them out.”

The police were able to restore calm, but according to Medhat none of the attackers were arrested.

A customary ‘reconciliation’ session was held in the village, in the presence of the mayor, several MPs and representatives of senior families in the village. Awad was ordered to leave the village and pay Mohammed the equivalent of just over 2,800 US dollars in compensation.

The Coptic community have long complained about the ‘reconciliation sessions’ they are forced to take part in. In July 2016, Coptic Church authorities said they were tired of these meetings because they felt they were often discriminated against.

Egypt is number 31 on the 2018 Open Doors World Watch List. A rise in violent and deadly attacks caused the deaths of 128 Christians last year and left many injured. So-called Islamic State targets Christians and the government’s low regard for fundamental rights means there is little protection. Muslim-background believers face enormous pressure to recant; official recognition of conversion is almost impossible. Building places of worship is difficult because of administrative restrictions, communal hostility and violence. Church leaders are monitored by the state. Believers, especially women, face discrimination and abuse at work.

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