by Mary Abdelmassih
In less than one month, just in the Upper Egyptian province of Beni Suef, Copts in three hamlets and villages, came under attack by Muslim mobs, masterminded and incited by the State Security, according to various eye-witnesses and Coptic Church sources. Muslim vigilante mobs took the law into their own hands, under the pretext that Christians are 'praying without a liscence' and went on a vandalizing of Christian places of worship spree, in addition to assaulting Christians and looting their homes.
Events of the latest incident took place on 7/17/09, after Friday prayers in the mosque of village of El-Foqaii, Beba, Beni Suef. A mob of 3000-4000 Muslims, marched the village streets chanting "We will bring the Church down', 'We will bring Shenouda to the ground'(meaning Coptic Pope Shenouda III) and " Allah Akbar" (God is Great).
"Before hearing or knowing anything, a few children started hurling stones at Coptic homes, then we heard someone say 'wait until you see the adults coming'. We knew there was a conspiracy against the Coptic Association and our homes," Sobhy Fawzy, village school teacher and eye-witness told Raymond Youssef of Copts United advocacy in a video interview. "We decided to go home and lock ourselves in. We preffered to die as martyrs in our homes .. What else could we do?? Where could we go? We just prayed imploring God's help". He added: "It was only God's grace that saved our lives from this barbaric attack." The village of El-Foqaii, has a population of 10,000, of which only 110 are Copts. "Only 25 people were present in the village at the time, including only five men and the rest were woman and children," said Fawzy. "They surrounded the small one -storey building liscenced as a Coptic association. A few could climb over the iron gates of the Association and caused damage inside, while others went on a rampage against homes of Christians living nearby."
"They broke the wooden doors and crashed into the homes and looted whatever they found. They took away the golden jewelry the women were wearing and looted cash savings,leaving women and children heavily traumatized," he added.
The vigilante mob's excuse for the attacks was because Reverend Gabriel, pastor of the Church in Beba organized on Wednesday 7/15/09 a summer fete in the Coptic Association for the children of three neighbouring hamlets in which symbolic gifts were given to those who passed their exams as a 'token of encouragement'.
For the second time within a month the Governor of Beni Suef, Dr. Ezzat Abdullah, appeared on the popular ' El Mehwar' TV, twisting facts and justifying abuses against Copts, without giving a plausible answer as to who gave the mob the right to take the law into their own hands and attack a 'liscenced' Coptic association. He said that every place of worship needs the 'evaluation of State Security', without giving firm promises of finding a remedy to the recent escalation in the number of attacks on Christians, or promising to penalize the assailants.
Mahgoub Youssef, one of the vigilante mob was also interviewed on the TV programme and he said bluntly that Egypt was a Muslim country with a Muslim President and that Copts cannot pray without a permit from security!!! He said that the Muslims men after Friday prayers went to the 'association' to stop Christians from praying there. "It does not matter if they have no church nearby, Muslims in the West also have to travel 3-10 hours to pray!!! Arrogantly Youssef said "WE cannot have a repeat of the scenario in which Copts have a social services building then they convert it to a church."
Surprisingly this is exactly what the Governor of Beni Suef said in his first interview on Al-Mehwar TV on 6/22/09 "The problem is that it starts with a social services place, then it is turned into a church"
Reverend Gabriel, who was also interviewed exposed the lies of the Governor who could not give a reply to the question of why it is a problem for Christians to pray. Reverend Gabriel confirmed that the Coptic Association was liscenced and used for the last 20 years, without any problems and with the knowledge of the security authorities, as a meeting and a prayer place for Christian villagers once a month, in view of the absence of a nearby church.
In a telephone conversation a spokesman for the Coptic Diocese of Beba and el Fashn told Coptic Wave advocacy that the security authorities masterminded the attack and the incident was known in advance to muslim villagers. "Unquestionably State Security are still penalizing the Diocese of Beba and El-Fashn for daring to arrange for the sit-in after the attacks on the hamlet of Boushra-East on 6/21/09. It has given Muslims the green light to attack Christian places of the worship, and then the place is closed "for security reasons" and because "it upsets the village Muslims'. This way one place after another is being closed."
As predictable ,the Copts in the village were forced by State Security to join in an Arab 'reconciliation meeting' on 7/18/09, where as usual they gave up all their rights to pursue their assailants, "who were caught looting inside Coptic homes and handed over to the police and subsequently released", said Fawzy.
"Don't blame those who attack Churches and places of worship, it is the State which teaches and supports hatred towards building of churches"said Dr. Naguib Gibraeel, President of the" Egyptian Union", Organization for Human Rights. "At the faculty of law, students are taught that building Churches is a sin. Besides, the Al-Azhar affiliated 'Council for Islamic Interpretation of Islamic Laws, issued a Fatwa (religious edict) number 1809 for the year 2008,in which it states "the one who gives his will to the building of a Church is equal to someone who gives his will to the building of gambling Casinos or the building of barns to raise pigs, cats and dogs!!!".
Eye-witness Fawzy told Coptic News Bulletin "Security men were already in the village, they had knowledge of what was to happen, and some of them were at the Friday prayer and joined in the demonstrations. I wish they could only tell us whose turn is it next, so as to prepare ourselves that we will be beaten, that we will be robbed, that we and our females will be assaulted. This is normal. We are only a minority and have no voice.."