ollowing a visit to the village of Ezbat El-Sheikh Nageim by Governor Essam el-Bedawi of the Minya region on September 15, two Coptic Christians were charged with inciting sectarian strife and insulting Muslim religious leaders. Nageim was accompanied to the village by the head of his security detail, as well as a several legislators, and met with local leaders of the Christian and Muslim communities in an effort to broker peace. Coptic Christians are a minority in the village as they are nationally. There are around 4,000 Copts in Ezbat El-Sheikh Nageim and 19,000 Muslims. 

Strife broke about after Bassem Abdel-Malak Fahim, 25, posted Facebook comments concerning an attack on Coptic Christians in May. Terrorists shot at a bus and killed 28 Coptic Christians. Fahim also criticized the Egyptian government and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for failing to control Muslim terrorists within Egypt’s borders. 

While Fahim deleted the post on the next day, it was not before his friend Mina Younan Samuel (25) shared it on social media. Three months later, Samuel’s shared post was seen by Muslims in the village, who took umbrage. According to World Watch Monitor, Adel Girgis -- a Coptic Christian -- said, “This post spread among the Muslim villagers, and all people in the village were talking about this post, saying it was an insult to Islam.” Girgis added, “They then begin to insult and threaten us while we were walking in the village streets, and hit two Copts.” Both Fahim and Samuel left the village. 

On the evening of September 15, Fahim posted on Facebook his apology for the “misunderstanding.” “I did not mean to offend any religious or public figures, but rather terrorism and terrorists, the enemies of the homeland,” he wrote. “I deleted that post from that date, and I did not write anything after it. I affirm my love and respect for all Christians and Muslims, and everyone in my dear country.”

On September 7, Fahim was accompanied by his father at a meeting with local Muslim leaders to offer an apology and explaination that he did not mean to insult Islam or its founder. However, on September 10, Muslims gathered outside Fahim’s home in protest. A Coptic Christian priest, Fr. Gawargious Abdel-Saied Aziz asked for help from Bishop Anba Macarius of Minya, as well as local security officials. With security on hand, Girgis said, “The village felt the situation had calmed.” But once security withdrew on September 14, the Muslim mob returned.

It was on the evening of September 14 that mobs of Muslim villagers attacked Coptic Christian homes and businesses, hurling bricks and stones while destroying windows and doors of homes in addition to looting. 

Witnesses attested that two Coptic men and one Coptic woman were injured by the rioters. Several shops and vehicles were destroyed. The Muslim mobs targeted Adib Hanna Street, which has only Coptic residents. The local Coptic Christian church was stone before security officers returned to the village to restore order. Local reports suggest that as many as 100 people were initially detained, and that 19 of them are still being held. 

One woman told World Watch Monitor that it was about 10 p.m. on September 14 when she heard the sound of shattering glass when members of the mob threw rocks at her windows while shouting “Allah is great!”

“We were very scared. I have two children – one of them aged two and the other aged eight months – who experienced a night of terror and fear,” said the witness. She added, “What was the sin we committed to have all these things happen to us? We have received threats and insults from some Muslims in the village, even now, despite the presence of the security officials. We are afraid that these attacks will be renewed when the security officials leave the village.”

On September 15, Minya Governor Essam el-Bedawi visited the village, saying that Egypt would not be divided. He vowed that those who want to create sectarian divides in Egypt would “never succeed”. He said, “Egypt will remain united and will not be divided by anyone.” He said, “There are parties whose purpose is to destabilise the security and stability of the homeland and those people will never succeed in their quest. Egypt will remain strong and proud, despite the spiteful and disloyal people. You [Christians and Muslims] should stand united against any attempt to undermine the good relations between you.”
 



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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