The Role of the Egyptian Security in Violence Against Christian Copts
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(AINA) -- In less than two weeks, Muslim mobs carried out collective punishment on Copts in three villages stretching from Upper Egypt to the Nile Delta. These attacks included assaults, torching, and looting of Coptic homes and shops, forcing the terrorized villagers to abandon their possessions and flee to safety.

In all three recent incidents the accounts of several eyewitnesses, including priests, directly implicated the Egyptian State Security of masterminding the assaults and instigating the mobs, and taking an active role in the violence against the Christians.

The reason for the attacks on the two Upper Egyptian villages of Ezbet Boushra-East on June 6 and the neighboring Ezbet Guirgis Bey on July 3 was one and the same: suspicion based on rumors spread by security that Christians are using or have the intention of using part of the church's social services building for religious rites.

In the Nile Delta village of Meet El-Korashy, Meet Ghamr, a fight between a Coptic shopkeeper and a Muslim man led to the death of the latter. In spite of the presence of the security forces in the village after the death took place, they failed to take action against the Muslim mob 'justice' of carrying out collective punishment on innocent Copts, causing bodily harm, destruction and looting of their homes. The majority of the one thousand Coptic villagers were forced to flee for fear of more Muslim repercussions.

This phenomenon of the movement of sectarian incidents in Egypt from one province to another and from village to village until they reached estates and hamlets, is what political analyst and human rights activist Magdy Khalil calls the "sedation of the security."

"These events are brought about by the security services in Egypt, particularly the State Security Investigation," says Khalil.

Khalil implicates security of being behind incidents going back to the incident of El Zawya El Hamra, Cairo in June 1981 where eighty-one Copts were killed, over one hundred were seriously wounded, and their homes looted and destroyed, continuing up to that of Ezbet Guirgis Bey on 7/3/2009. "According to reports by credible Egyptian human rights organizations," says Khalil, "the State Security played a dangerous and devastating role in these events, which varied between large and small incidents, but all had one common denominator: the security authorities' role in igniting and inflaming these incidents."

The second incident of Ezbet Guirgis Bey on 7/3/09 came only a few days after the Security authorities and the Governor of Beni Suef 'forced' the church once again into a 'reconciliation meeting,' were only promises were given to the church that problems would be solved, without any of the offenders being charged or compensation to Coptic villagers being discussed.

A spokesman for the Diocese of El-Fashn told Coptic Wave advocacy the State Security is totally responsible for the recent events and that the second incident of Guirgis Bey was meant to be a quick reply from security to "penalize the Coptic Church" for daring to take a firm stand and for staging a sit-in at El-Fashn. The source said that "Security has declared war on the Church."

The strongest criticism came from Reverend Sama'an Shahata, the priest of Ezbet Guirgis Bey in which he implicated the State Security of staging this attack in order 'to stop the Church from using the services building for religious rites'. In an interview on 7/6/09 with Raymon Youssef of Copts United he exposed the whole scenario carried out by security to bring about this incident.

Reverend Shahata said the security guards in the village incited the villagers to imitate the violence in Ezbet Bouchra. He also criticized security for failing to take action when he informed them two days before the violence took place that he received a threat from the Muslim minority through the mosque's imam not to relocate the religious rites to the services building, saying "if you pray in this building, we will burn down the whole village, and matters could escalate to the use of fire arms."

According to Rev. Shahata, "I went to celebrate holy mass and when I was at police reporting the torching of a building at dawn in spite of the presence of the security guards, we received calls that the village police guards and the Muslims were in the street calling 'come to jihad.'" They broke windows and assaulted Copts in their homes with clubs and stones. "One police guard went to the neighboring village asking for reinforcement, saying the Copts demolished a mosque and killed two Muslims." The security forces came to the village, and placed a curfew only on Copts. They arrested 11 Copts and 5 Muslims. "Our biggest loss is the emotional hurt," said Rev. Shahata, "we lived all our life peacefully together, and now this happens from our Muslim neighbors."

The Coptic issue was under the supervision of President Abdel Nasser. After his death, president Sadat insisted on handing out the Coptic issue to the state security service because he believed that the Copts were dangerous to Egypt's security. "From this time onwards, the persecution and humiliation of the Copts took priority for the state security service," says Medhat Kelada , Coptic activist and PR for Copts United advocacy.

"Currently Coptic affairs are, largely, the responsibility of the "Coptic division" of the State Security Intelligence, headed by a brigadier officer with a group of lesser rank officers. Is it logical to leave one of the most important national issues in the hands of a group of officers, and low-rank ones at that? Returning this issue completely to the president is a first step, if we seriously want to begin discussing this issue away from the abuse of the security agencies," says Magdy Khalil.

According to Kelada "The Coptic persecution issue has become a permanent source of livelihood for them, especially with the flow of funds from the rich and extremist Wahhabis who try to Islamize the Egyptian Copts with the help of some of the security service officers, who also work for the Muslim Brotherhood." On reasons for security igniting sectarian strife, Kelada gives among others the purpose of distracting public opinion from internal political, economic and social problems. Besides, "they want to win the mobs and criminals in the Egyptian street by campaigning for the Muslim Brotherhood."

Magdy Khalil believes that passing the bill on the "unified law for building places of worship," will not succeed in putting an end to these problems as long as the entire 'Coptic issue' is controlled by the State Security. "The State Security plays the most dangerous role in this issue, which is attempting to destroy the relatively stable relationship, at least in modern Egyptian times, between Muslims and Copts in Egypt."

By Mary Abdelmassih

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