Gratitude in the Face of Violence
By Martin Hopman
07/13/2021 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Ragi stared down the gun barrels of his accusers. On the table in front of him lay a liability paper stating that he would provide compensation of 50,000 Egyptian Pounds (roughly $3,000 USD) for his alleged theft of a prominent Muslim man’s motorcycle. For Ragi, a member of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority residing in a rural community, there was no other option but to sign and pay the extortion price to secure his release.
Kidnapped by a gang of Muslim men armed with the weapons of the motorcycle’s owner, Ragi had little choice but to comply with their demands if he hoped to see his family again. Such an example of vigilante mob justice is commonplace throughout Egypt, where Christians are roughly 10% of the population. They are systemically oppressed and treated as second class citizens.
After the kidnapping, Ragi sought advice from his family elder for help in this matter of extrajudicial justice exercised by his powerful neighbors. They met with the village’s Muslim elders in a reconciliation meeting, a common form of community resolution for instances of sectarian violence that is often abused by the community’s most powerful faction as a loophole that perpetuate human rights violations.
Reconciliation councils have no uniform standards of procedure or justice and are completely subjective, a fact that is willfully ignored by state authorities to avoid entanglement and enforcement of justice. In Ragi’s case the meeting did result in the liability paper being returned to him along with his money, but he rightly feared for his life and so refused to accept the money.
As a 38-year-old married man with two young children and an ongoing case of tongue cancer that began five years ago, Ragi cannot afford to take risks that would further endanger his family or business. For a scrap seller, maintaining one’s image of integrity is difficult enough. “Unfortunately, my job is suspicious, there are so many drug dealers and prostituted people who work this job, thank God, I have my clients and I’m a good man.”
A mere 15 days after the reconciliation council, another Muslim neighbor encouraged his children to harass Ragi’s wife and kids at every turn. Ragi confronted his neighbor, which resulted in another reconciliation meeting between Muslim and Coptic elders. In the end, to avoid further persecution, Ragi would be forced to sell his home at half its market value and leave with his family for a fresh start in Al Nasara village.
“It was a hard decision for me to leave the village to save my family.” A new home in a new village also meant having to re-establish Ragi’s business operations, which required him to take out a loan of 10,000 Egyptian Pounds (roughly $600 USD). Loan payments cut into Ragi’s already slim profit margins as a scrap seller, which on top of chemotherapy expenses, threatened his ability to provide for his family.
Despite these challenges, Ragi cannot help expressing his gratitude to God for some semblance of stability. “Thank God I live in a safe place now.” In a nation with such a thoroughly entrenched system of discrimination it is difficult to find such stability much less financial security. Working with our partners on the ground, ICC was able to cover the remainder of Ragi’s loan enabling him to pursue his business venture uninhibited to start a new life for his family.