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November 18, 2015 No.
6224

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Expulsion Of Coptic Families From Their Homes Sparks Uproar In Egypt

Introduction

The expulsion of several Coptic families from Kafr Darwish in Beni Suef governorate in Egypt has recently caused a stir in the country. The families were expelled in attempt to ease severe tension between Muslims and Copts in the village; the tension was sparked after a member of one of the Coptic families who resides in Jordan posted on his Facebook page images and content that were deemed offensive to Islam and the Prophet. Enraged by his posts, Muslim teens in the village attacked his family and other local Copts. This prompted intervention by the security forces, who surrounded the homes of the Coptic families to prevent further violence.

The decision to expel the families was taken at a reconciliation assembly held on May 17, 2015, which was attended by Coptic and Muslim families, village dignitaries, and representatives of the security forces and local government.This solution was presented as a necessary evil that would prevent the greater evil of continued clashes between Copts and Muslims.[1]

The expulsion of the Copts sparked harsh criticism from Coptic and human rights activists in Egypt, who said that this measure - decided on as part of an informal arbitration procedure - was a flagrant violation of human rights and of the Egyptian constitution. Criticism was leveled especially at the local governor and local security officials, who had given their blessing to the move. Some even called upon Egyptian president 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi to intervene in the matter.[2] Outrage was also voiced on social media, under hashtags such as "No to the expulsion of the Copts of Kafr Darwish." Users condemned the move as an expression of racism and sectarianism, and criticized the custom of settling conflicts in informal frameworks such as reconciliation assemblies, rather than through the courts and the rule of law.[3]

Articles in the Egyptian press likewise expressed disapproval, stating that the forced expulsion of the families was a reflection of the widespread persecution of and discrimination against Egypt's Coptic community. The authors slammed the Egyptian authorities, stating that, under the pretext of preserving social order and preventing bloodshed, they took part in persecuting Coptic citizens instead of defending them. One of the articles, by former deputy prime minister Ziad Bahaa Eldin, noted that the issue of anti-Coptic discrimination by the state apparatuses is hardly discussed lately, since the current media discourse in Egypt labels any criticism of the state and its apparatuses as an attempt to destabilize the country and as support for the Muslim Brotherhood.

In light of the public outrage, the Coptic families were eventually allowed to return to their homes on June 5,[4] following a second reconciliation assembly under the aegis of the Egyptian presidency and Al-Azhar, attended by Coptic and Muslim dignitaries, the local governor and security chief ,and a local representative of the Endowments Ministry.[5]

 

The following are excerpts from three Egyptian press articles condemning the expulsion of the Copts.

 

The family of the Coptic youth whose Facebook posts triggered the incident, which was expelled from its home in Kafr Darwish (image: YouTube.com, June 6, 2015)

 

Egyptian Journalist To President Al-Sisi: An ISIS-Like Phenomenon Is Emerging In Egypt

An especially scathing response was penned by journalist Magda Al-Guindy, editor of the literature supplement of the Al-Ahram daily and the wife of liberal activist Gamal Al-Ghitani, known for his interest in Coptic heritage. In her June 3, 2015 column, she appealed to President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi, urging him to deal with the disturbing phenomenon immediately. Al-Guindy called the perpetrators of the crimes against the Copts" an internal Egyptian ISIS" and accused the state of abetting the Copts' expulsion. She wrote: "Honorable President, I know that the people you appointed are supposed carry out the law, but, pardon me, they are incapable of making decisionsÔǪ at least in the matter about which I am writing to you. They are expelling Egypt's Copts, sir. They are uprooting Egyptian [citizens] from their land, [ignoring] the constitution and the law, not to mention history and geography. Mr. President, Egypt's national security is threatened not only by ISIS on the border .It is also threatened by internal elements who trample the law and are guided by a lie called 'traditional solutions' and [traditional] assemblies[that are outside the normal legal framework],which publicly tear Egypt apart and order the expulsion of Egyptian Copts from their homes. Mr. President, ISIS is right here in [Egypt]. You, and with you all the people, thirst for justice and understand that time is not working in our favorÔǪ This internal ISIS is slaughtering us; it is plotting against us and you and against the very existence of Egypt.  Honorable President, our sons, brothers and fathers in the army are being killed every day so that Egypt will remain whole and undivided, [yet at the same time] the internal ISIS is burning houses of God and the homes of Egyptians just because they are CoptsÔǪ

"Sir, when you visited the Egyptian Copts on [Christmas] Eve, you set people's hearts at ease. You represented the one [unified] Egypt, you delivered the message [of unity]. [But] today, sir, they are slaughtering Egypt. You promised us [a state of] law, and we supported you. You went out on a limb the minute you realized that our existence, namely Egypt's existence, is being targeted. [So] now that a new sword is placed on our neck -a sword that expels Egyptian [citizens] a sword of fear and bloodshed -[please] remove [this sword], sir. Restore the law to us, dismiss the feeble and cowardly [functionaries] who are incapable of making timely decisions.

"I do not wish to compound your worries, so I will spare you the details of small, frightened children who were forced from their beds in the middle of the night, and of elderly men and women who,due to their [advanced] age, could only crawl when the authorities surprised them and ordered them to leave their homes otherwise they would be burnt [alive] I know that you understand the implications of this matter better than me and that you will heed the call to maintain a united Egypt and carry out the law"[6]

 
The second reconciliation assembly (image: masrawy.com, June 2, 2015).

 

Egypt's Former Deputy Prime Minister :  It Is Inconceivable That The State Should Be Complicit In Expelling Citizens From Their Homes

In an article titled "Forced Migration and the Role of State and Society," published June 2 in the daily Al-Shurouq, former Egyptian deputy prime minister Ziad Bahaa Eldin, whose mother is of Coptic origin, attacked the state's sponsorship of "reconciliation agreements "as part of which Coptic families are expelled from their villages. He called to pass laws banning discrimination and warned that, given the existing economic and cultural circumstances in Egypt, the latent civil war could erupt to the surface at any moment. The following are excerpts from the English version of his article, posted June 4 on Ahram Online:[7] "Yet again news comes of Coptic families expelled from their villages, this time in Beni Suef and Al-Minya, part of the terms of customary reconciliation agreements reached in meetings of local residents, clerics, and state representatives. 

"The locals and clerics who take part in these sessions believe they're doing the right thing because it protects families and villages in Upper Egypt by preventing a small-scale dispute from degenerating into a violent sectarian conflict. So they choose flawed solutions to ward off what they see as the greater evil. That's why I don't blame those who in fraught circumstances seek to defuse sectarian tension and shut down the strife before it begins. The state, however, is something else. State institutions should be censured for sanctioning the outcome of a customary reconciliation that compels a family to leave its village because one of its members may have done something shameful, provocative, or illegal. 

"Expulsion from one's village is not a penalty recognized by law. In fact, the Constitution considers it a crime so serious that it is not subject to a statute of limitations. Banishing an entire family because one of its members may have infringed social or moral codes or even committed a crime is also a flagrant violation of the constitutional principle of personal criminal liability... 

"The state should not participate in, sanction, recognize, or implement any decision to expel any citizen from his hometown. Doing so is tacit recognition that the principle of citizenship is meaningless and that the state's authority to protect its citizens is powerless before social pressure and hard line religious currents.

"These evictions are nothing new in Upper Egypt, although they have increased since the revolution due to the security vacuum, the spread of weapons, and the rise of religious extremists who feel empowered to enjoin the good and forbid the evil. The state often yields to reconciliation deals involving evictions to avoid confrontations, though in rare instances it has implemented the law, brought offenders from both sides to justice, and protected those who are not directly involved in the dispute.

"Currently, few Christian Egyptians doubt that the state and its institutions stand against the return of religious rule, or question the state's zeal to protect the rights of Copts and their place in society. This was symbolized by the president's greatly appreciated visit and speech at the St. Mark's Cathedral in Abbasiya during the last Christmas mass. But prevailing media and official discourse views any criticism of the state as an attempt to undermine and destabilize the regime, support the Brotherhood, or weaken popular support for the president and the government. 

"As a result, any talk of the failure to uphold citizenship or to protect Christians is viewed with apprehension - like talk of the constitution, justice, and liberties - and liable to draw accusations of sowing discord or breaking with the national consensus. Sadly, those who pay the higher price of this silence are poor residents of villages located far from the centers of government, power or influence. 

"Sectarian tension exists and can flare up at any moment, fed by existing economic and cultural conditions. The gap between Muslims and Christians is real and has been fostered by decades of suspicion, superstition, and the conflict over limited resources. But the problem cannot be dealt with by remaining silent about violations or by relying on state agencies alone to manage the issue using the same means that created the problem in the first place.

"Society must confront the issue. Laws protecting equality and prohibiting discrimination must be issued, and the state must allow civil society to play its role in raising awareness, building bridges of trust, and creating early-warning systems that can monitor imminent sectarian conflict, address the root causes, and deal with its consequences."

 

Deputy Director Of Al-Ahram Center for Political & Strategic Studies: The Security Apparatuses Benefit From Expulsion Of Copts

In a similar vein, on June 7, 2015, Dr. 'Imad Gad, deputy director of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, published an article in the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm in which he sharply criticized the Egyptian authorities for failing to prevent the expulsion of Copts, and suggested that they derive economic and moral benefit from these acts. He added that the ongoing persecution of Copts diminishes the status of the Coptic Church and especially the status of the Coptic patriarch in the eyes of the community's younger generation.

Gad wrote: "The state's constitution mandates equality between citizens regardless of race, language, religion and gender. In practice, the coercive expulsion of Coptic citizens continues under direct threats by other citizens or following decisions by the customary law assemblies that are supervised by the security apparatuses and the authoritiesÔǪ Quite possibly, they [the security apparatuses and the authorities] derive economic and  moralbenefit from this - economic by receiving a share of the "booty" appropriated from the expelled families, and moral due to the satisfaction of expelling and punishing members of a different faith. [After all,] many state apparatuses are riddled with extremism, zealotry and fundamentalist ideasÔǪ

"During the 1970s we witnessed the flight of Coptic families from Upper Egypt, more precisely from the Asyout and Al-Minya districts, due to the crimes of extremist groups and their repeated attacks on the Copts, and also due to the imposition of taxes upon [the Copts] with the knowledge of the security apparatuses and the state institutions

"The continued violation of the constitution and the law in all Copt-related issues is insufferable, especially considering[that it triggers] action by the younger generation of Copts, which pressures the church and disdains its position to the extent of losing respect for the head of the church. Some have accused the patriarch of failing to intercede with the state to end these acts against the Copts, and others have described him as[actually] working for the state, thus undermining his status and weakening his ability to handle these events.

"The matter does not permit further delay. Article 63 of the Egyptian constitution[8] must be enforced, and senior officials in the security apparatuses and the executive branch must be instructed to carry out the law and dissolve the customary law committees [and clarify] that anyone involved in such acts [of expulsion?] will be dismissed and persecuted. As I have repeatedly said, the solution lies in a state of law that commands respect, and this [in turn] depends on political will. In other words, is there a genuine desire to implement the constitution and the law and deal with discrimination among Egyptian citizens? Or is the constitution  meaningless, and therefore Egyptian citizens will continue suffering various forms of discrimination, with religious discrimination being the most dangerous of them?"[9]

 

[1] Vetogate.com, June 5, 2015; Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), June 6, 2015.

[2] Al-Dustour (Egypt), May 29, 2015;Al-Bidaya (Egypt ), June 3, 2015.

[3] Dotmsr.com, June 1, 2015.

[4] Vetogate.com, June 5, 2015; Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), June 6, 2015.

[5] Masrawy.com, June 2, 2015; dotmsr.com, June 3, 2015.

[6] Al-Ahram (Egypt), June 3, 2015.

[7] English.ahram.org.eg,  June 4, 2015.

[8] Article 63 states: "All forms of arbitrary forced migration of citizens are forbidden. Violations of such are a crime without a statute of limitations." Constituteproject.org/constitution/Egypt_2014.pdf.

[9] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt),  June 7, 2015.