Compass Under threat from Egypt s security police for holding services at his house church, a Protestant pastor has been run down by a taxi in Cairo and died of internal bleeding and a broken skull. Ezzat Habib, his son Ibram Habib and a friend were crossing the street in Cairo s Matereya district on the evening of October 23, when a parked taxi pulled into the street and hit them from behind. The taxis license number was 73746.
The pastor, 58, was immediately taken to a local hospital where he underwent surgery the following morning but died later that day. The friend, who asked to remain unidentified, suffered from a broken leg, while Ibram Habib received severe bruising in his legs. He continues to suffer from pain in his lower back.
Hospital personnel prepared a report about the incident and had Ibram Habib sign it soon after he helped deliver his father to the hospital.
I signed the paper before I was fully conscious, the son, who is involved in full-time Christian ministry, told Compass. When I read the report later it was completely different from what had actually happened. The taxi driver paid a lot of money to have them let him go.
Ibram Habib and his brothers, George and Amir, assert that their fathers death was no accident.
Egyptian Christians subjected to security police interrogations are frequently threatened that they will be killed or injured in contrived car accidents if they do not cooperate with police demands.
The Habib family has faced perpetual threats and physical persecution from neighbors and the State Security Investigation (SSI), Egypts national security police, over the past two years for their role in hosting the Beit-El (House of God) church in Giza, an outlying suburb of Cairo.
After much soul-searching in the wake of his oldest son Hanys death, Pastor Habib, who earned a living as a tailor, founded a church in his home in 1997. For six years members of the Beit-El congregation worshipped in relative freedom as the only church in El-Harem, a Muslim-majority neighborhood in Giza .
In June 2003, after receiving complaints about the churchs activities from neighbors, two soldiers came to investigate the congregation of 50. During a second investigation on July 1, police from nearby Boulak el-Dakrour station arrived with two marked cars, a minibus and a vehicle full of soldiers.
They filed a report against that congregation for disturbing the neighborhood and arrested Pastor Habib.
He was jailed at the Boulak el-Dakrour station in an underground cell so narrow that he could not sit down. Over a period of six days the police abused the Christian physically and sexually, his sons told Compass.
On the fifth day SSI officer Hussein Gohar interrogated the pastor, his eyes bandaged and his hands chained, while a police officer on each side of him hit and kicked him and insulted his wife. Gohar, notorious for his torture of Egyptian Christians, warned Pastor Habib to stop his meetings and strictly forbid Muslims and foreigners from attending.
Okay, I will stop the meetings, the pastor finally told his captors. The next day he was taken to the state prosecutor, who in Egypt has wide ranging powers that include the jailing of suspects, and was told that he was free to go. But upon leaving the prosecutors office, police would not release him until he had paid a bribe.
Despite their pastors jail stay, the Beit-El congregation did not stop their weekday evening meetings. Over the following weeks police staged three more raids and made nine arrests. Each time no formal charges were filed, and the state prosecutor ordered the Christians release, but police refused to free their captives until a bribe had been paid.
Following the final raid on July 30, 2003, in which a 72-year-old Orthodox priest, a 73-year-old man and Amir Habib and his two cousins were arrested, the congregation decided to suspend all activities.
A year later, in July 2004, after attempts to register the church were rejected by local authorities, the Beit-El congregation resumed meetings.
Only days afterwards Pastor Habib received a phone call from SSI Lt. Medhat Allem. Why did you start the meetings again? Allem asked angrily. You will see what will happen to you.
Later that month two trees in front of the Habibs apartment building, one four stories tall, were cut down; they fell against the building and smashed windows. The pastor tried to call the police when he saw a man in his front yard chopping his tree with an axe, but the phone lines were cut and the front door was blocked from the outside.
According to a Muslim neighbor who approached the tree-chopper, the man claimed to have permission from the SSI to cut down the trees.
Didnt I tell you to stop doing your meetings? Allem told Habib when the pastor eventually got through to the SSI officer. Look what is happening to you.
Members of the congregation, which now numbered only 15, continued to face harassment as they persisted in meeting over the following year. Young women on their way to the church meetings were verbally accosted by neighbors and had buckets of water thrown on them. The Beit-El apartment was also stoned.
On September 19, only a month before their fathers death, Amir and George Habib were escorting Georges fiancée and another young woman home from the evening church meeting when a local teenager, Ahmed Khalif Ali Mustafa, began shouting insults at them. When Amir Habib shouted back, the boy pretended that he had not been talking to them.
Later, as the Habib brothers returned home, Mustafa approached them with a concealed knife and stabbed Amir Habib three times before running away. After immediately filing a report with the police, the Christian went to a local hospital where he received stitches for the knife wounds in his shoulder and upper arm and had surgery for a severed ligament in his wrist.
In spite of their fathers death and continued harassment from police and neighbors, the Habib brothers remain resolute in continuing their house fellowship.
After the death of my brother, my father started to ask God what He wanted him to do, Amir Habib told Compass. He started Beit-El because he believed that is what God wants. Also in that neighborhood there is no other church from any denomination. Because of that we are going to keep going.
But continuing the El-Beit house church in its current location will not be easy.
Attempts to relocate meetings in Giza this past summer were squashed after city officials refused to provide electricity and water and then sealed an apartment that the Habib family bought on a nearby street.
Licensing the apartment as a non-governmental organization has also failed, because no lawyer has been willing to help the family.
The lawyer told us, If the State Security Investigation is in the case, then there is nothing I can do, Amir Habib said.
The brothers also worry about their mothers health, which they say was already deteriorating because of stress even before their fathers death.
Fearing deadly police harassment, the three brothers and their mother have been forced to separate and stay with various friends, only returning to their old home for church services.