(AINA) -- Sectarian violence targeting Christian Coptic inhabitants of the Upper Egyptian town of Dairout, 313 kilometers south of Cairo, erupted on Saturday, October 24. Hundres of Muslims, mainly from Al-Azhar Institute in Dairout, and secondary school students chanted 'God is Great' while attacking and looting Christian-owned homes and businesses, as well as churches and the Coptic Orthodox Diocese building. They were demanding revenge from the Christian young man who "shamed the Muslims."
The frightened Coptic inhabitants called for police protection which arrived five hours later, when State Security enforcement arrived from Assuit, 50 km away. No fatalities were reported, but several were wounded by hurled stones and beatings of Coptic students as they left school. Approximately 100 Muslims were detained.
What prompted the first wave of violence in Dairout a week ago was an illicit sexual relationship between a Muslim girl, Hagger Hassouna, and the Christian Romany Farouk Attallah. A rumor that intimate photos of Ms. Hassouna together with her lover Romany were circulating on cell phones in Dairut lead the Hassona family to kill Romany's father, 61 year-old Farouk, on Sunday October 19, 2009, in the village market of Attaleen, after failing to locate his son, who had fled. After using over 140 bullets to kill him and wounding two of his relatives, his body was dragged in the street, accompanied by shouts of victory and blows directed to the dead body, commented Egyptian Al Akhbar Daily on 10/25/09. Free Copts website published a video of the disfigured body (warning, violent graphic content).
The second wave of violence in Dairout started on Saturday, October 24 at 11 AM after it was rumored that Romany Farouk Attallah would appear in court after being arrested and transferred from Alexandria. The Muslim mobs congregated around the police station only to learn that it was a false rumor. After hearing that the prosecution extended the detention of the Muslim killers, the mob went rampaging to different parts of town, but mostly to the Abu Bakr el Sediq Street and Abu Gabal area where Coptic businesses and pharmacies tend to center. They went into pharmacies, looted the drugs and confiscated whatever cash was available. Locked shops were broken into and looted, vehicles belonging to Copts were demolished.
According to activist Wagih Yacoub, of the Middle East Christian Association (MECA), the Church of the Virgin and Abu Seifein, also known as the 'ancient church" was attacked by stone throwers, as well as the Church of the Virgin which is located in the Coptic Diocese where the mob set fire to its windows. Coptic youths extinguished the fire. Churches were afterwards guarded by security forces.
"Coptic girls were in particular harassed and witnesses confirmed that Muslims tried to tear the clothes off some of the girls as they went out of school," said Wagih Yacoub.
Nader Shoukry of Watani newspaper also reported on the targeting of Coptic girls, which led their families to demand that their daughters be kept within the schools' premises until they collect and bring them home to safety. "The young girls were subjected to sexual harassment, obscene insults and some were recipients of hurled stones; the traumatized girls started crying and screaming in the street," Shoukry reported.
Amid escalating terror and the absence of the police, Copts stayed indoors to protect themselves from the mobs, but the rioters broke down doors and went in to assault Copts in their homes and loot their belongings, according to MECA.
The Governor of Assuit, Amin elEzaby, previously a top State Security official, appeared the same evening on the National Egyptian TV, assuring that the situation was under control, after receiving several inquiries from the international news agencies, especially the BBC. He said what prompted the violence was that the prosecution decided to extend the detention of the four Muslim members of the Hassouna family who murdered the Copt Farouk Attallah, whose son had an affair with a Muslim girl. "The Muslim family was angry because they expected the detained family members to be released, which sometimes does happen," said the governor "So the family started hurling stones at everyone."
The governor's explanation was inadequate. He claimed it was only members of the Hassouna family who caused all the damage and the assaults, when it was reported that nearly one thousand Muslims demonstrators were present at one time, in just one area of town. He also claimed that the mob did not differentiate between Muslim and Christian property and cars, which is far from reality. A few sources confirmed that Saturday's violence against the Copts was planned a day before after the Muslim Friday prayer in the mosques.
Coptreal News reported that Youtube removed all offensive and threatening videos posted by Muslims, which might escalate the situation in Dairout further.
Angry Copts blame the State Security for not taking the necessary precautions, as everyone expected violence to break out after the killing of Farouk Atallah. "If everyone in Dairout knew about the Muslim girl's naked photos, surely State Security knew about them as well. So why did they not interfere long before the situation deteriorated, unless they wanted more Copts to be killed again?" a witness said. They also blame security forces for arriving over five hours after being alerted, in order 'to give more time to the mobs to carry out their Jihad.'
There was consensus among those interviewed that the couple have committed a mistake and should be penalized according to the law; the girl got involved willingly in this illicit affair, especially that Romany is married and has children, and he was also to blame for capturing her photos in intimate positions and distributing them on the villagers cell phones.
Attorney Dr. Naguib Gobrail, President of the Egyptian Union Organization for Human Rights, sent a telegram to President Hosny Mubarak asking him to intervene as the Copts in Dairout were being murdered, their businesses looted, their homes burnt and they were placed under curfew, because of a 'couple's illicit sexual affair.' He went on to blame the government for not having taking the proper action a long time ago and condemned the Muslim killers in El Kosheh massacre (where 21 Copts were massacred and not one Muslim indicted), which would have prevented the Dairut incidents. "Had you condemned those who defamed the Christian Religion and those who spread the culture of violence and fanaticism, then no sectarian violence against Copts would have taken place in Dairut, Menoufia (where a Copt was beheaded) or Abu Fana, where monks where tortured in 2008." He reminded the President that Copts are also Egyptian citizens and to "stop the shedding of Coptic blood."
Coptic lawyer Mamdouh Ramzy, who wishes to run for Egypt's 2011 presidential elections, faxed President Mubarak and requested a safe haven for the Copts in Dairout, who are "pursued by the Muslims as if they were chicken," referring to the state of terror and angst overcoming the Copts in Dairut.
By Mary Abdelmassih