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ICC Note: Out of court settlements, known as reconciliation sessions, are increasingly being used as a platform to force Egypt’s marginalized Christians to cave to their abusers’ demands. The authorities have been arresting Christians in an attempt to force them into reconciliation. These sessions have also been employed as a tactic to close churches.

06/21/2018 Egypt (Morning Star) –  Christians coerced into an out-of-court settlement following an Islamist attack on a church building in Egypt recently saw the usual outcome – a closed church – a practice that has long oppressed Christians, according to Middle East observers.

Members of an armed Muslim mob that attacked a church building in Meinin village, Beni Suef Governorate, in April were acquitted on May 22 of mobbing, fighting and possession of unlicensed firearms based on a “conciliation” settlement calling for the church site to close.

Nine Christians were arrested – with five held illegally for a month – and charged with failing to have a church building license in a country where officials are slow to approve licenses if at all, Middle East specialist Raymond Ibrahim noted on his website. The State Security Court handed the nine Christians and 11 Muslims one-year suspended sentences, essentially acquitting them based on the out-of-court settlement.

Coptic villagers told Watani newspaper that authorities had recently visited the site in preparation for legalizing the church building, prompting the attack.

Obtaining or constructing a church building in Egypt was nearly impossible before a 2016 Law for Building Churches, and the Meinin church of the Holy Virgin and Pope Kyrillos had applied for legalization under the law – which stipulates that no church that has submitted its application to officials shall be closed, according to Watani.

Muslim attacks on church buildings create the threat of sectarian conflict that then serves as the pretext for closing them, Ibrahim notes.

“Authorities tell Christian leaders things like, ‘Yes, we understand the situation and your innocence, but the only way to create calm in the village is for X [the offending Christian and extended family, all of whom may have been beaten] to leave the village – just for now, until things calm down,’” Ibrahim wrote in a previous article. “Or, ‘Yes, we understand you need a church, but as you can see, the situation is volatile right now, so, for the time being, maybe you can walk to the church in the next town six miles away – you know, until things die down.”

Should the Christians refuse and demand their rights as citizens against the assailants, authorities smile and say “Okay,” he states.

“Then they go through the village making arrests – except that most of those whom they arrest are Christian youths,” he writes. “Then they tell the Christian leaders, ‘Well, we’ve made the arrests. But just as you say so-and-so [Muslim] was involved, there are even more witnesses [Muslims] who insist your own [Christian] youths were the ones who began the violence. So, we can either arrest and prosecute them, or you can rethink our offer about having a reconciliation meeting.”

The dejected Christians see no alternative but to comply, or else their young men will go to prison and be tortured, Ibrahim notes.

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For interviews with Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: [email protected]