Four Egyptians Killed in Outbreak of Sectarian Violence
Christians have become “soft targets” following ousting of Islamist President
By Todd Daniels
8/6/2013 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern)-In one of the most explosive outbreaks of sectarian violence since the June 30 protest in Egypt, four Christian men were killed and others were hospitalized. These life threatening injuries, from being stabbed and beaten, occurred after a mob of Muslims stormed their homes. In addition to the dead and wounded, more than 27 Christians’ homes were looted and destroyed by the mob. Despite repeated calls from local residents and religious leaders, the security forces did little to intervene on behalf of the Christians in the village of Nagaa Hassan in Al-Dabaiya, near Luxor Egypt.
Christian Framed for the Death of a Muslim
The violence started in the early morning hours of Friday, July 5, when the body of a 48 year old Muslim man Hassan Sidqi Hanafi was discovered in front of the home of Magdi Eskender, a Christian.
Accounts differ regarding the circumstances surrounding the killing, with one account claiming that Hassan was accused of adultery and beaten to death. After his passing on Thursday, July 4, his two brothers took the body and placed it near the houses of some Christians. They then accused a Christian, Sobhi Magdi Eskander, 18, of killing Hassan. At dawn on Friday, Eskander was beaten with clubs and stabbed before escaping from his assailants, reported the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). Then, Thursday night, Hassan’s two brothers
Fr. Basilyos Naim, of Mar Youhana Church in Al Dabaiya, said, “The brothers of Hassan wanted to let the people know that their brother was killed by Christians because Hassan had some Christian friends in this village.”
While the exact details are not entirely clear, the blame was quickly put on the Christians and violence erupted.
Security Forces Abandon Christians during Attacks
After discovering the body of Hassan, “the Muslim fanatics, Muslims Brotherhood in this village and from the villages close to this village seized this opportunity to take revenge from the Christians. So they attacked the Christians, burnt and looted more than 27 homes,” ICC’s contact reported.
By 5:00 am, Fr. Naim was alerted that several hundred local Muslims carrying firearms, bladed weapons and tools, shouting hostile chants, were beating on the doors of Christian homes. He hurried to open the doors of the church to offer a place of refuge.
Fr. Naim told ICC he repeatedly asked local security forces to step in to protect the Christians. However, the security forces did nothing to stop the violence, saying they needed to wait for reinforcements.
The attacks escalated throughout the day, as “the Muslim Brotherhood seized this opportunity and attacked the Christians in this village to take revenge from them because of the removal of Morsi,” Fr. Naim said.
While the crowds encircled the houses of Nashi Habib and Rassem Tawadros, a few women trapped inside were able to escape and were taken to the Mar Yuhanna Church. However, security forces refused to help the men to safety, according to a report from Amnesty International.
Four Christians Killed, Houses Destroyed
As a result of the attacks, four Christians were killed: Romani Nashi Habib, age 38, Muharib Nashi Habib, age 40, father of 3, Rassem Tawadros Aqladios, age 54, father of 5 adult daughters, and Emile Nessim Serufim, age 40, father of 3.
Girgis Nashi Habib spoke with ICC’s contact about the death of his brothers Romani and Muharib. “What happened was a terrible thing. I cannot believe that I lost my two brothers and we lost our home, everything.I, my family, and the families of my two brothers are staying at the Church now because there is no longer a home for us. Our homes were destroyed,” Girgis told ICC’s contact.
Emile Nessim, who was killed in Nagga Hassan, was a member of the opposition group Tamarod which collected more than 22 million signatures calling for Morsi’s removal. His activism may have been the reason that the rioters came to his house, burned it down, and killed him.
Emile’s family and his brother’s families are also living at the church while they try to rebuild or find a new place to live. Fr. Naim told ICC that as of July 17th seven families were staying at Mar Yuhanna Church as a result of the violence.
According to the report from EIPR at least 21 homes were damaged in the attacks and nearly 100 families have been displaced from their homes.
Christians Targeted in Revenge for Speaking Out
The Christian community is a ‘soft target’ in Egypt, said Dr. Ashraf Ramelah, president and founder of the advocacy group Voice of the Copts. “The Muslim Brotherhood is pointing the finger at Copts and claiming Copts were behind removing Morsi,” Ramelah told ICC.
The Coptic community, which accounts for roughly 8-10 percent of Egypt’s 85 million citizens, was not the only group to call for Morsi’s removal. There were people from all segments of society – Muslim, Secularists, Christians – in the streets calling for him to leave.
Though the result for Emile and his family is tragic in this instance, the decision for Christians to engage in society and work to make a better Egypt for all citizens is a promising sign.
Bishop Thomas of the El-Qussia and Mair Diocese, in Upper Egypt, told ICC, “in the past it used to be said that the Christians were withdrawing.” This attitude is changing, he told ICC.
“You have seen in the last demonstrations that lots of Christians were involved. Lots of them are sharing in this. This is something great. People will now start to feel like this is our land. We need to stay. We need to continue. We are not weak, but we are strong enough to stand up for our faith, for our life,” he told ICC.
“Even though we are facing problems or we are targets for some violence. But that doesn’t mean that we stay away. This outspoken attitude is a new way that the Christians are to take,” said Bishop Thomas.
While this outspokenness may make Christians the targets of violence for those who promote hate and division, it also gives them a voice in working to create a better Egypt for all of its citizens.