The murder of another Coptic Christian in Egypt, this time in the centre of the capital, makes this the fifth death over a 13-day period.
Ishak Ibrahim Fayez Younan, 37, was found dead by his brother on 16 January, at Ishak’s flat in the old part of Cairo. He leaves a wife and two children, 10 and 12.
His death, reported to be by his throat being cut, bears similarities with the deaths of other Coptic Christians over a two-week period. Each had their throat cut, while money and other valuables were left behind – even though police had said robbery was the motive behind at least one of the murders.
Younan was murdered in the flat he rented while he worked in a factory supplying soft drinks to supermarkets. His wife and two children were at the family home in El-Sheikh Zaied, a village in Upper Egypt.
His brother, Magdy Younan, told World Watch Monitor that Ishak had just returned to Cairo to work after a week’s holiday to celebrate the traditional Coptic Christmas – 7 January – and a family wedding. “It was his first visit to the family in two months,” Magdy added.
Ishak travelled back to Cairo on 12 January, visiting Magdy on the way to his own flat. He took him a food package – a traditional Upper Egyptian gift – from their parents because Magdy could not visit them during the Christmas break.
Ishak’s wife phoned him on 13 January to check everything was OK since his return to Cairo. That was the last time she spoke to him. She tried calling his mobile telephone over the following three days but never got an answer.
“She was very worried about him because it was the first time they hadn’t spoken for that long,” said Magdy.
She asked Magdy to visit the flat to see what was wrong. “I headed to Ishak’s flat with our brother-in-law,” he said. “When we got there, the door was locked. We knocked loudly but no one answered. (more…)
At least 25 were killed and 49 wounded when a bomb targeted worshiper’s during Sunday service (10am) at St Peter’s Church in Cairo. Six children were among the dead. The bomb exploded inside the church and was left in an area to specifically target women and children. State television reported an explosive device had been thrown into the building, but witnesses said the bomb had been planted in the church. (more…)
(World Watch Monitor) When 12-year-old Rahma Salem refused to wear a hijab to school in the Delta in northern Egypt, teachers ordered her to leave lesson after lesson and would not let her take part in any activity.
“I was made to stand all alone in the school courtyard. The headmistress later came to me and said: ‘Here in school, you put on the headscarf. Outside, you may do as you wish.’ She thought I was a Christian,” said Rahma, the only girl – a Muslim – who dared to turn up to school with her hair uncovered.
“No girl can show up with her hair showing. They all have to wear the hijab,” explained Salem to her interviewer on a talk show on an independent satellite channel earlier this month, when asked if exceptions were made for Christian girls.
“Christian girls have to wear the hijab. As soon as the end-of-day bell rings, they start taking it off,” said Salem.
When Salem’s mother went to complain to the Higher Board of Education in her home town of Zagazig, she was told, “Stop being an idiot! Don’t you want your daughter to be decent?”
Earlier, parents closed in on Salem’s mother on the first day of school at the Kafr el-Ashraf Preparatory. “I was shocked when other mothers stopped me at the gate. ‘What’s that? How can your daughter show up like this?’ I re-inspected my daughter’s uniform, and incredulously asked what was wrong. ‘Her head and neck have to be strictly covered!’” said the mothers, referring to the now-prevalent way Muslim women and girls dress, showing only their hands and face.
The Kafr el-Ashraf case is not isolated. A number of parents across the country have reported rising intolerance towards pupils who do not wish to wear the veil, and bullying of non-Muslim children by teachers and by pupils who follow their lead.
On 18 October, Coptic newspaper Watani reported that another state school in the same province, Sharqia, was forcing all female students to wear a hijab. The director of al-Nassiriya School in Zagazig posted a large sign mandating Islamic dress on all girls as part of the school uniform.
For years, Christians have complained of harassment in classrooms. Some of their complaints relate to government policy, such as having to memorise parts of the Qur’an to pass mandatory Arabic exams. Others are a result of an ever-growing societal pressure.
Salem’s mother said her daughter has been subjected to “huge psychological pressure”. “The other girls themselves give her nasty looks. They look her up and down, and ostracise her,” she said.
It is telling that the only pupil who dared raise the issue, 12-year-old Rahma, was a Muslim. Students from Egypt’s Christian minority are in an even weaker position than Muslims to disobey the rules laid down by representatives of Islam and its votaries within society. Some Christian parents feel uncomfortable speaking to the mainstream media about their children’s troubles at school.
Viola Samir, a seven-year-old Christian pupil at Kom el-Lufi Primary School in a village outside Samalout, in Minya province, 250km south of Cairo, told how the Islamic religious studies teacher had held eight Christian pupils in her class of 35 against their will, beating one who had not learnt the Qur’an by heart.
Religious education is an obligatory subject in all Egyptian schools. Usually, Christian students leave the class to gather in another for their Christian religious education, while Muslims, being more numerous, stay in their classes for the weekly sessions.
World Watch Monitor heard from Viola’s father that: “When my daughter told the teacher that the extra texts were not part of the Arabic curriculum [which all students have to learn], she was severely punished by her teacher.”
“The Christian religious studies teacher complained to the headmaster, but he took no disciplinary action against the Muslim teacher. In the end, the teacher allowed the Christian children to leave the class to join their Christian studies class,” Viola’s father added.
Another parent said his son was caned for not reciting verses from the Qur’an. Abanob Milad, 11, a pupil at El-Galaa Primary School, also in Samalout. had complained many times that his Arabic teacher was hostile to the Christians in his class.
“Once, the teacher, Mohamed, caned Abanob on the back of his hands, afterwards forcing him to stand with his face to the board and both arms up in the air for the entire length of the lesson. My son had failed to repeat the Quranic text by heart when prompted to,” his father said.
The children, those parents say, hate going to school. They are often absent due to the continued bullying by both teachers and other children.
‘Don’t socialise with them’
Another account of bullying was replicated in Mustapha Kamal Primary School in the village of Delga, near the city of Dayr Mawas, Minya, 320km south of Cairo.
Nine-year-old Kyrellos Shafiq was given a ‘zero’ for his homework and told, “Your handwriting is rubbish.” The boy’s father explained: “The teacher made the other students pin down my son as he gave him the bastinado, caning him on his bare feet. It seems only Christians are given this punishment. They’re 12 out of 42 in my son’s class.”
In another case, an Islamic studies teacher in el-Zeira Primary School, in Abu-Teig, Assiut, reportedly waited until the Christian pupils had left to attend their separate lesson before telling the others to have nothing to do with them. Ten-year-old Maccar Aziz was later told by a Muslim friend that the teacher had “told the Muslim children in class not to socialise with their Christian colleagues. He said they [Christians] were infidels whom our religion demands we have nothing to do with.”
What goes on in the classroom is not detached from the wider atmosphere Christians face in a State that has repeatedly enshrined Islam as its official religion and Sharia as the source of its legislation, despite officially upholding freedom of belief. Since the 1970s Gulf oil-boom, many expatriates across the Middle East have returned home with a renewed zeal for “the faith”, having been told it was their duty to revive it in all quarters.
Unlike in countries such as Syria and Iraq, where Christians have been forced to flee en masse or face the full force of the Islamic State, Egypt’s Copts have been able to live within a margin of tolerance, with only occasional attacks and official infringements.
Some people now see this margin tightening. They fear that Egypt’s uneasy co-existence could shatter at any moment, mindful of the dozens of churches and Coptic properties that were attacked in the summer of 2013. Supporters of the former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi carried out the attacks after he was ousted following widespread protests.
Although some Copts respond to this pressure by emigrating to the West, others have no desire to abandon their homeland. Asked whether he thought of leaving, Ayman Ibrahim, 40, a Coptic sports teacher from Assiut in Upper Egypt, replied: “This is our home, I feel such a link to this land. It’s where I have my family and my childhood friends. How can I replace that?”
Only time will tell whether Kyrellos, Abanob and Viola share his loyalty to their country after experiencing hostility from its teachers at such a young age.
(Agenzia Fides) – The Egyptian Ministry of Internal Affairs denied the associations of young Copts permission to organize a demonstration on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the massacre known as the “massacre of Maspero”. Permission to demonstrate – reported the official sources of the Ministry – was not granted for “security reasons”. The massacre of Maspero took place on October 9, 2011, during the transition period that followed the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, when the Egyptian government was in the hands of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. On that day the army, deployed in the vicinity of the building that houses the State television, opened fire on groups of protesters, mostly Copts, leaving behind 27 dead. The demonstrators had gathered to protest against the demolition of a church which took place in Upper Egypt.
Maspero Youth Union activists issued a statement, sent to Agenzia Fides, denouncing they had received even threats by the security forces, after their request to demonstrate had been rejected. The provisions – very restrictive – that in Egypt regulate the request and authorization to carry out public demonstrations came into force in November 2013, a phase of the Egyptian civil life characterized by high social tension, after the deposition of President Mohamed Morsi, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who had democratically won the presidential election in June 2012. (GV) (Agenzia Fides 06/10/2016)
Learn about the Maspero massacre by watching the video links below.
Maspero: A massacre of Christians in Egypt (60 Minutes Video Report)
On January 28th 2011 millions of Egyptians took to the street and crushed the police forces that for years had oppressed, imprisoned and tortured its citizens. That same night the Egyptian armed forces took over the vacuum left by the police apparatus. While claiming to serve the revolution and protect Egypt, the military began arresting people from protests, torturing them and court martialed them.
One of those incidents was on October 9th 2011 when thousands of protesters peacefully marched on the Maspero TV tower demonstrating against the military’s silence over the burning of a church and the armed forces recent attacks on a similar protest a few days earlier. That day the military killed 28 civilians, injured hundreds and arrested 30.
Two days later the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces held a press conference in which they claimed the soldiers had no live ammunition and the tanks at the scene were escaping protesters rather than trying to run them over. Only the protesters were to blame.
Three weeks later the armed forces called twelve civilians for questioning blaming them for the massacre. One of them was Mina Danial – one of the murdered protesters. Another was the blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah, who rejected being heard before a military court, and spent over a month in jail before all charges were dropped. Thank you to all those whose footage helped make this possible, particularly: Kiro Alex and Sarah Carr whose lives were in grave danger but captured the truth.
(World Watch Monitor) A 16-year-old Christian boy has been accused of committing blasphemy by “liking” and sharing a post on Facebook which “defamed and disrespected” the Kaaba in Mecca, the building at the centre of Islam’s most sacred mosque.
Most of the Christians in the boy’s village have since fled their homes for fear of an angry backlash against them.
At around 3pm on Sunday (18 Sep.), several police vans raided Nabeel Masih’s house in Dina Nath village – in the Kasur district of Punjab province, 30 miles southwest of Lahore. There are at least 300 Christian homes in the village.
The complainant, Akhtar Ali, filed this accusation at the nearby Phoolnagar Police Station: “On 18 September, I was with my friends Bakht Khan and Saddam … We took our friend Waqar’s mobile phone and started seeing pictures of his various friends on Facebook. But when we opened Nabeel Masih’s profile, there was a picture posted in which the Kaaba is defamed and disrespected. Seeing that picture, our religious feelings were hurt.”
Nabeel’s cousin, Imran, 24, told World Watch Monitor that Nabeel had nothing against Muslims and meant no harm.
“It was only a mistake by him and he clearly stated that he did not intend to hurt but to condemn the post,” Imran said. He added that Nabeel is illiterate and works as a labourer in a nearby ghee factory.
Pastor Samuel Masih, who was visiting his sisters in the village, said that, although everything seemed calm, “many of the Christians have left the area due to fear of security”.
Phoolnagar Police Station head, Shahbaz Ahmed Dogar, reiterated that everything was under control and urged Christians to return.
“There was no announcement from mosque loudspeakers or any gathering of people,” he said. “Those who have left the area have taken only precautionary measures and I would encourage them to return to their houses.”
In several instances in the past, Christian neighbourhoods in Pakistan have been targeted following blasphemy allegations, resulting in the looting, ransacking and burning of Christian homes. In 2009, more than 100 Christian homes were ransacked and set on fire in Gojra, near Faisalabad, while in March 2013 another 150 Christian homes were set on fire in Lahore’s Joseph Colony.
VOP Note: We remember the Joseph colony very well as we were in contact with Pakistani Christians at the time of the attack on their community. The aftermath was heartbreaking. It’s quite disturbing how entire villages are ransacked, burned as the innocent are beaten by violent mobs. There are even times when the accused is arrested and jailed, yet the attacks continue. Imagine living with a fear that you will be beaten or ‘taught a lesson’ for something you are not of part of and because you are associated simply by faith. These are fear tactics to keep the Christian community suppressed and inferior (second-class citizens) in a country predominantly Muslim and increasingly radical.
Christians attacked after Friday prayers
Meanwhile, a poor Christian neighbourhood in a remote village 20 miles south of Faisalabad came under attack after Muslim Friday prayers on 16 September.
Five people were hospitalised, including two women who also faced public humiliation after their clothes were torn, but police said the injuries were not sufficient for the formal registration of a case.
At least 20 men armed with sticks and firearms attacked the Christian neighbourhood – in the village of Chajwal, in the Samundri district. The incident took place only the day after the Punjab Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Affairs, Khalil Tahir Sandhu, told local media that “minorities in Pakistan are more secured (sic) than [in] other countries of the region”.
Villager Razaq Masih, 55, lodged a formal complaint at the Samundri Saddar Police Station, in which he named six alleged attackers. He said that, at around 4pm on Friday, those six, alongside 30-35 others, came to the village, “yelling that today they would teach a lesson to these ‘chuhras’* … [and] attacked the Christians”.
Masih added that the assailants had stormed into the house of a Christian woman, Sharifan Bibi, “torn [her] clothes” and “while beating her, dragged her … out of the house”.
Parveen Bibi said she was also beaten as she tried to protect her two sons – Shahbaz, 25, and Zahid, 23.
“My sons are labourers and they had just returned from their work,” she told World Watch Monitor from her hospital bed. “I [pleaded with the attackers] and tried to save my sons, after which they beat me with clubs and attacked us with bricks.”
Arif Masih, 55, who also works as a labourer, was returning home from a wedding when he was beaten.
“I could not even understand why they were beating me,” Masih told World Watch Monitor at the hospital.
Hundreds of Christians from the village gathered together on Sunday evening (18 Sep.) and resolved to seek justice. They told World Watch Monitor the attackers must have had support from local politicians, which is why the police had refused to officially register the case, and said they were fearful of further attacks.
“About 300 to 400 Christian households are in Chajwal, whom the influential community of Gujjars [an agricultural caste] have been trying to suppress for a while,” said Shahid Masih Paul, chairman of Christ Assemblies International, a Pentecostal group. “The Gujjars are influential in the area. Decades ago, these Christians were dependent … on [these] landlords, but over time their number has decreased and most of them work as labourers in the city.”
What sparked the attack?
Razaq Masih told World Watch Monitor that he had been sitting with a Muslim man in front of some Christian homes, when some Gujjars, as well as people from the Julaha (weavers) caste, arrived and wanted to beat up the man.
“They had a grudge against him because of a relationship he had a year ago with a young woman, who was also Muslim,” Masih explained. “The Christians intervened and said that if the relationship had ended, then why should he be beaten? Within no time, about 30 men arrived, yelling that we will teach these ‘chuhras’ a lesson for raising their heads [to defend the Muslim].”
Chairman Paul said that the Gujjar and Julaha communities had long wanted to direct their sewerage water into the cesspit beside the Christian community, but that “Christians have been refusing because they think that the pond would then overflow and their houses would be inundated. That is the core issue. It is not bearable for the Gujjar and Julaha that these poor Christians, who have long been their tenants, have started to resist them.”
Razaq Masih said all the Christians live on government land. “They have not been able to buy the land, but for decades they have been living there. If the [Gujjars] are allowed to channel their sewerage water there and it inundates the Christians’ houses, they would then have to leave the village.”
Rao Kashif, provincial parliamentarian for Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, told World Watch Monitor that he could not confirm whether or not the Christians were beaten up.
“I regularly come to my office but how can I know if none of them has come to me?” he said.
The Christians complained that since the incident no parliamentarian has yet raised their case. In the past, many incidents of violence against Christians have taken place, which have been seen as a precursor for later evicting them from the government land they live on.
Christians continue to be regarded as lower-class citizens and are often forced to live in the less desirable parts of an area, such as close to sewerage-filled ponds. This attitude towards them is reinforced from schooldays onwards.
A recent report by Pakistan’s National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) says the government has failed to keep its promise to eradicate religious “hate material”, including against minority Christians, from textbooks used in schools.
After the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in Dec. 2014, the government introduced a 20-point National Action Plan to discourage religious extremism and to provide a counter-narrative to promote religious harmony, saying an “end to religious extremism and [the] protection of minorities will be ensured”. However, the NCJP report, “Freedom from Suffocating Education”, claims that no curriculum reforms have so far been adopted at the school level, aside from the production of a few booklets.
This backs up the findings of another recent report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which concluded: “The trend toward a more biased curriculum towards religious minorities is accelerating. These grossly generalized and stereotypical portrayals of religious minority communities signal that they are untrustworthy, religiously inferior, and ideologically scheming and intolerant.”
The NCJP report, which focused on textbooks used in the 2015-16 school year, noted that “hate material” previously identified had not been removed from the curriculum yet.
* “Difficult to translate, the word connotes dark skin, low social status and un-touchability” (Pakistan Herald, Sep. 2016) – the term “chuhra” (“dirty”/”filthy”) is considered by some Pakistanis as almost synonymous with “Christian”. It’s linked with “bhangi” and “jamadar” (sweepers or sanitary workers), the lowest-caste occupations still overwhelmingly populated by Christians.
Please pray for Pakistan.
A long-awaited new law maintains restrictions over the construction and renovation of churches and discriminates against the Christian minority in Egypt. The law, passed by Egypt’s parliament on August 30, 2016, applies only to Christian houses of worship.
Recent incidents of anti-Christian violence that left one person dead, several injured, and numerous properties destroyed were prompted or preceded by anger among some local Muslims over actual or alleged church construction. Even when authorities have made arrests, they have rarely prosecuted suspects, creating a climate of impunity for violent crimes that target Christians.
“Many Egyptians hoped that governments would respect and protect freedom of religion, including for Christians, after the 2011 uprising,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead, the authorities are ignoring the underlying systemic issues and sending a message that Christians can be attacked with impunity.”
The website of Al-Youm al-Sabaa newspaper published the law and explanatory memo on August 30.
The new law allows governors to deny church-building permits with no stated way to appeal, requires that churches be built “commensurate with” the number of Christians in the area, and contains security provisions that risk subjecting decisions on whether to allow church construction to the whims of violent mobs.
Estimates of the size of Egypt’s Christian population, the great majority of them Coptic Orthodox, range from 6 percent to 10 percent of the total population of 93 million. Authorities have done little in the years since the 2011 uprising to change policies that have long disadvantaged their community.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi pledged to respect freedom of belief and made important visits to Coptic Christmas masses. Authorities, however, have failed to protect Coptic Christians from violent attacks and instead enforced “reconciliation” sessions with their Muslim neighbors that deprive them of their rights and allow attackers to evade justice. In some cases, Christians were obliged to leave their homes, villages or towns. READ MORE at Human Rights Watch
(Morning Star News) – After more than two and a half years of unlawful detention and abuse at the hands of the Egyptian government, a prominent convert from Islam to Christianity has issued a public statement declaring he has returned to Islam.
Mohammed Hegazy, also known by his Christian name, Bishoy Armia Hegazy, posted on Saturday (July 30) the statement of Islamic faith known as the Shahadah on YouTube (recorded the previous day) and declared the supremacy of its prophet, Muhammad. Hegazy then said he wouldn’t discuss his return to Islam or speak to the media again.
“I went through an experience with all its good and bad and all that is in it, but it was an experience,” Hegazy said on the video. “But praise be to God who strengthens me in Islam. I am not coming today to talk about specific things, because it was a personal thing between a person and God. But I am coming today because I hurt a lot of people in my family and my friends and caused them a lot of problems.”
Hegazy apologized to family members, who had threatened to kill him after he became a Christian.
The fact that Hegazy declared that he wasn’t speaking under duress but at the same time would no longer speak to media has aroused concern among human rights activists in Egypt that he may have been coerced or threatened to make the statement. More likely, they fear that after Hegazy’s time in prison, where he was subject to a constant stream of beatings, abuse, humiliation and held for more than a year and seven months without charge, he simply succumbed to the pressure and, rather than face a lifetime of indefinite imprisonment, chose to make a public act of conversion.
After Hegazy’s initial release in July, attorney Karam Ghobrial asked that Morning Star News not publish the information to protect his safety. Since then, Ghobrial has declined to talk about the case other than to confirm that he thinks that Hagazy made his confession of faith because he was a terrified and broken man.
He noted Hegazy seemed stilted in he video, and that the statement he gave seemed scripted.
“I personally think that he recorded this video to get out,” he said.
‘Thinking about Suicide’
Hegazy was released on bail on July 23 after spending more than three weeks being transferred from prison to prison across Egypt, under the direct orders of the Ministry of Interior (MOI), according to Ghobrial, Hegazy’s attorney during his imprisonment. It was unclear if he still faces charges.
On June 26 a judge ordered that Hegazy be released from prison, and the next day, after posting a bond of 5,000 Egyptian pounds (US$565), he should have been released. But instead, in what his lawyer said in June was part of an ongoing multi-year effort to break Hegazy’s will and force him to convert back to Islam, the government’s internal security police detained him without charge June 29 at a local jail in Ain Shams. It was the second time the MOI denied Hegazy his freedom in defiance of a standing court order for his release.
Since June 29, security agents from the MOI transferred Hegazy to at least four different prisons or police holding cells no less than six times with no hope of ever being released, and without giving any reason why he was being detained, his attorney said. With each transfer, Hegazy became increasingly suicidal. The last time Ghobrial saw Hegazy, the prisoner was at a breaking point, the attorney said.
“It broke my heart to see him crying at the police station today,” Ghobrial said after a rare visit to see Hegazy. “I couldn’t do anything to help him. He’s lost hope in life and is thinking about suicide.”
‘Here He Is – Kill Him’
After being transported to the jail in the Ain Shams police station, authorities started giving Hegazy the first in what would prove to be a long list of conditions in order for him to be released, according to Ghobrial. The terms seemed designed to keep Hegazy in police custody; they were impossible to complete, or, if successfully completed, would have exposed him to attacks from Muslims still enraged about his leaving Islam.
Among the terms the MOI said Hegazy had to meet before he could be released was providing a valid residential address to security police. In effect, this meant he had to rent an apartment or find some other place to live while detained in jail with no access to any form of communication.
It was a task that would have been difficult to achieve anywhere, but in a country where more than 80 percent of the population thinks the national government should execute apostates from Islam, according to Pew Research Center figures, it was impossible. An alternate condition officials set, and the one that Hegazy finally met, was to return to live with his parents, who were the first people to turn him in to the government for leaving Islam and who have made no secret about their desire to see him dead for converting.
“I feel like [releasing him to his parents] would be the end of Hegazy,” Ghobrial told Morning Star News in July. “Because Port Said is a small city, and it isn’t only his parents who live there but his whole extended family. Port Said is where he converted to Christianity. He will be easy to recognize and easy to kill. I don’t understand the police’s insistence that he live with his parents. It’s basically like saying, ‘Here he is – kill him,’ and then handing him over on a silver platter.”
Trying to Protect his Child
Hegazy, 34, left Islam when he was 16. He began to suffer persecution almost immediately, and in 2002 he was jailed and tortured by the Egyptian internal police, then known as the State Security Investigations services (SSI).
On Aug. 2, 2007, Hegazy filed a lawsuit to force the Ministry of Interior to change the religious affiliation listed on his state-mandated national identification card from Muslim to Christian. Hegazy said in 2007 that he filed the case mainly to protect his soon-to-be-born child from being forced to suffer the same persecution he experienced. In 2008 he lost the case, but never appealed the decision.
In response to the lawsuit, some Islamic leaders in Egypt called for Hegazy’ death, and he suffered through numerous attacks, including having his home set on fire by a group of militant Muslims. Eventually he was forced into hiding.
In 2011, when the “Arab Spring” revolution started in Egypt, Hegazy was able to come out of hiding, convinced that he could enjoy relative anonymity in the chaos that ensued through out the country. Hegazy tried to make a living as a freelance journalist during this time. He could also occasionally be seen on Christian talks shows broadcast by satellite into Egypt, raising his public profile even higher. For some Christians, especially converts in Egypt, he became a symbol of a sort.
During the summer of 2013, one of the worst waves of anti-Christian attacks in the history of Egypt took place. The spree of violence, documented at length by numerous journalists but largely denied by the government, included public kidnappings, assaults, destruction of property and attacks on several church buildings that mobs of militant Muslims burned to the ground. Hegazy went out to document the attacks.
On Dec. 2, 2013 in Minya, 260 kilometers (161 miles) south of Cairo, Egyptian authorities arrested Hegazy at a café at the Agricultural Association and accused him of working for The Way TV, a Coptic Christian-owned, U.S.-based television channel that broadcasts into Egypt via satellite. The government claimed that Hegazy was contributing to a “false image” that there was violence against Christians in Egypt.
From the start, human rights activists said the charges against Hegazy were without merit. In an official complaint filed with the Egyptian government in March 2013, 18 different human rights groups from Egypt and around the world stated that the charges against Hegazy were “clearly related to his religious conversion.”
“Mr. Hegazy’s detention, treatment, and prosecution blatantly violate Egypt’s recently established constitution, which clearly states that ‘freedom of belief is absolute,’” their complaint read. “His case is also a violation of international agreements to which Egypt has been party for decades.”
Internal documents from the MOI obtained by Morning Star News showed that during the time of his arrest, the ministry was employing at least one informant to follow Hegazy. The documents also showed that the MOI had extensively documented Hegazy’ religious life, including his conversion and even details of his baptism. The same documents also showed that, unlike Hegazy, three female journalists arrested with him were all questioned and then released.
Sometime during Hegazy’ detention, security agents from the MOI resurrected inactive blasphemy charges filed against him about the time he went into hiding in 2009. Two lawyers supported by a group of Islamists sued Hegazy for allegedly defaming Islam on the grounds that the very act of leaving Islam cast the religion into ill repute. The lawsuit was never settled and, and according to Ghobrial, passed the Egyptian statute of limitations. A court later struck down the statute of limitations.
On June 18, 2014, six months after he was arrested, a judge found Hegazy guilty on three charges stemming from the 2013 arrest, sentenced him to five years in prison and levied a fine of 500 Egyptian pounds (US$70) against him. Ghobrial immediately filed a request for appeal, and on July 20, 2014, a judge granted the appeal and ordered Hegazy be released on bail. But in the 24 hours that state prosecutors had to comply with the judge’s order, Homeland Security (HS), the post revolutionary successor to the SSI, took Hegazy into custody to be interrogated in Cairo for the 2009 lawsuit.
According to Egyptian law, HS then had to apply for 45 extensions of the detention with a time limit of six months to detain Hegazy in connection with the investigation.
On Dec. 28, 2014 while Hegazy was still in HS custody, an appeals judge upheld the charge of spreading false information meant to “cause harm or damage to the public interest” and sentenced him to a year in prison. He dismissed the two other charges against him.
Because Hegazy had already spent more than a year in prison waiting for his trial to take place and then his appeal to be heard, he should have been automatically released at the conclusion of the appeal hearing for having spent “time served,” according to his attorney. But technically, because HS only had him in its custody for five months, officials kept him in detention for another month. On Jan. 21, 2015, however, when the six-month time period expired and Hegazy should have been released, HS refused to release him and also declined to file charges against him.
In all, Hegazy has spent two years, seven months and 26 days in prison. All but one year of that time, he has been held without charge. During that time, according to his attorney, Hegazy was beaten, had his head shaved by force and suffered through constant harassment to force him to convert back to Islam. All through his ordeal, Ghobrial said, his captors offered him freedom if he would convert back to Islam.
Although the issue of the treatment of converts in Egypt doesn’t receive as much public attention outside of the country as does the persecution of the Coptic Orthodox minority by the Muslim majority, it is one of the most contentious subjects regarding religious freedom inside the country. Numerous Christians in Egypt who have left Islam to embrace their new faith have found themselves living in hiding from relatives in fear for their lives.
Although the Egyptian constitution guarantees freedom of expression and belief, security agents from the Ministry of the Interior routinely harass and arrest coverts who are suspected of leaving Islam.
In June, during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, Al-Azhar Mosque’s Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayyib, arguably the most respected Islamic scholar in the world, said during a daily TV program that leaving Islam was “treason” and that apostates should be executed.
“The penalty for an open apostate, departing from the community, is well stipulated in Sharia,” El-Tayyib said. “An apostate must be pressed upon to repent within a variable period of time or be killed.”
Please pray for Christian converts who face extreme pressure, even at the hands of their own families. Pray for endurance, patience, a refreshing of faith and hope in the Lord. Pray they will fix their eyes on Jesus and be filled with peace and joy as they put their trust in him.
(Morning Star News) – One Christian is dead, several others have been wounded and a fire gutted a church building after Muslims across Egypt waged a weekend of violence against Copts.
In Tahana El-Gabal village in Minya Governorate, on Sunday night (July 17) Fam Mary Khalaf, 27, was overpowered by a group of Muslims who stabbed him repeatedly in the chest. One of the knife stabs went directly into his heart, killing him instantly, a statement from the local parish reported.
Three others were seriously injured in the attack: Nagib Hanna, father of the Rev. Metaous, a local Coptic priest; Malak Aziz, brother of the Rev. Boutrous, another local priest; and Azza Jouma, a Christian neighbor of the three victims, was stabbed in the face.
The attack started when four Muslims began harassing Metaous’s primary school-age son as his grandfather was looking after him outside his home. The men threatened to run the boy over, witnesses told human rights activists investigating the incident. Once the stabbing began, the group of four quickly grew into a mob of more than two dozen screaming, “Stand by your Muslim brother!”
The assault was one of numerous cases of violence against Copts in Minya Governorate over the past few months, including an attack in May in which an elderly Coptic woman was stripped, beaten and paraded naked through her village streets because of a rumor, later shown to be false, that her son was having a romantic relationship with a Muslim woman.
Ishak Ibrahim, a human rights researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), said the attacks in Egypt and specifically in Minya continue because no one is being punished for committing them.
“What happened in Minya is nothing but a natural result of not enforcing the law in previous sectarian attacks against the Copts, and forcing the Copts to go through reconciliation meetings and obey illegal solutions that are demeaning,” he said.
The Tahana El-Gabal stabbing death came about a day after a mob of Muslims, enraged over a rumor that a church building was being constructed in the governorate, attacked Copts in their village. Starting shortly after 9 p.m. on Friday (July 15), groups of Muslims set on the Copts in the village of Abu Yacoub, causing minor injuries and torching five homes.
The attack lasted into the early morning hours of Saturday (July 16). Firefighters showed up several hours after the structures had been destroyed.
The bishop of Minya, identified according to tradition only by his consecrated name, Makarious, said in a press statement that the rioting mobs were in complete violation of the law and that there was no excuse for the violence.
“Nobody has the right to attack others and kill and destroy their property, no matter what,” he said.
The Abu Yacoub riot was the second such incident in 15 days to take place in Minya Governorate over a rumor that a church building was being constructed, and the third in the country in 30 days. In a surprisingly similar incident, on June 30 another mob rioted in response to a rumor of the building of a church in Kom El Loofy village in Minya Governorate. The 300-strong mob torched four Coptic-owned homes and otherwise harassed or assaulted Copts.
On June 17 in Amriya, a village south of Alexandria, local Muslims accused area Copts of building a church in a Coptic-owned construction site and began rioting. The mob assaulted Coptic men in the village and then attacked and looted several Christian-owned homes and a Coptic community center.
In the Amriya attack, police later arrested six Muslims and six Copts, including the owner of the construction site. The Muslims were released with no charges, in time to break the Ramadan day-time fast, but the Christians were charged with holding prayers without permission and building without a permit, then released the following morning.
The EIPR’s Ibrahim said the anti-church riots pose a dangerous problem for Copts, because they indicate that even if laws in Egypt change to allow them to freely construct church buildings, certain elements of Egyptian society still wouldn’t allow it.
“The government is not strong enough to protect the Copts from all these attacks,” he said.
Authorities are now trying to force Coptic communities in all the cases into what is known as a reconciliation process. Instead of criminally charging the perpetrators of Christian persecution, the government seemingly does everything it can to force victims into “Reconciliation Committees.”
Reconciliation Committees are based on traditional tribal councils, where two equal entities come together to solve a dispute. The committees are supposed to lead to equitable justice for all parties, but because Copts have significantly less power coming to the table than members of the Muslim majority, they are often victimized a second time instead of receiving justice. In some cases, Copts have been made to pay damages to attackers who destroyed their property in unprovoked incidents.
Bishop Makarious has urged all the victims to stand firm and refuse to participate in such committees because the perpetrators so often escape without punishment.
“We’re going to continue demanding the enforcement of the law and will not give up,” he said. “Every time they are set free, that is just encouraging others to do attacks in the same way, because they feel they are protected by the government.”
While mobs are burning down Coptic homes, churches are destroyed in mysterious fires. On Saturday (July 16) at 2:30 a.m., Copts rushed out into the streets of Al-Madamoud in Luxor Governorate to find flames shooting out of the roof of the Church of the Archangel Michael. An iconographer restoring the church’s religious paintings was stuck inside the building on the top floor in a room for visitors.
He had been allowed to sleep in facilities on the top floor of the church building. He was screaming for help and was about to jump, likely to his death or at least a crippling injury, but the gathered crowd was able to save him with a ladder.
When people pushed open the doors of the church building to go inside and fight the fire, they found the altar engulfed in flames and the blaze spreading everywhere. The men and women began trying to douse the flames with garden hoses and bottles of drinking water. By the time firefighters arrived two and a half hours later, the building was gutted.
The next morning, Safwat Samaan, director of human rights group Nation Without Borders, was able to visit the scene. Members of the congregation crowded into the blackened shell of the build with tears welling up in their eyes.
“It broke my heart to see old men, eyes full of tears and women wailing,” he said.
Now members of the congregation are afraid authorities will claim the fire was accidental, as officials nationwide have in so many other church building fires. Authorities claim the fires are accidental, started by unattended candles or an electrical short, even when no candles are present and electricity is shut off to the building.
That was the ruling in the fire at the Catholic Church of St. George, also located in Luxor Governorate, which caught fire under mysterious circumstances on April 20 at 3 a.m. Authorities claimed the fire was the result of either unattended candles or a short in a wire, but there were no candles, and a church attendant had turned off the main electric line to the building.
Because of the similarities between the fires at the Church of the Archangel Michael and the Church of St. George, many Copts have suspicions that a serial arsonist is targeting churches in Luxor, Samaan said.
“I wonder if this was just an accident, or if this was a planned arson, but the results will be in the hands of the firefighters and the police,” Samaan said. “I am concerned they will come to yet another all too convenient ruling.”