Egypt: Copts face arrest after Facebook post leads Muslims to riot

Two Coptic Christians in a village in Minya, Upper Egypt are facing charges of inciting sectarian strife and insulting Islamic leaders, after comments from one of the men on social media, shared by the other, caused some Muslims in their village to riot.

Bassem Abdel-Malak Fahim, 25, from the village of Ezbat El-Sheikh Nageim, first posted the comments on Facebook in the wake of the Minya bus attack in May, when 28 Copts were killed. The day after the attack, Fahim shared photographs of some well-known Islamic leaders, and accused them of inciting people to attack Christians. He also criticised the Egyptian government and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for targeting Islamic extremists in Libya but failing to control those within Egypt’s borders.

Fahim deleted the post the next day, but not before it had been shared by one of his friends, Mina Younan Samuel, who is also 25. And it was Samuel’s post that was then seen, more than three months later, on 6 September, by some Muslims in the village, who took offence.

“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,” Coptic villager Adel Girgis told World Watch Monitor. “They then begin to insult and threaten us while we were walking in the village streets, and hit two Copts.”

The next day, 7 September, Fahim and his father went to meet with some of the village’s Islamic leaders to offer an apology and to say that he didn’t mean to insult Islam or its prophet.

Three days later, 10 September, Muslims gathered outside Fahim’s home to protest, and a Coptic leader, Fr Gawargious Abdel-Saied Aziz, called for the support of Minya security officials and the Minya bishop, Anba Macarius. (Fahim and his father had already left the village to seek sanctuary in Cairo.)

“The village felt the situation had calmed,” Girgis said, but then on 14 September, the day after security officials withdrew, the mob re-formed.

 (There are around 4000 Copts in Ezbat El-Sheikh Negeim and around 19000 Muslims.)
There are around 4,000 Copts in Ezbat El-Sheikh Nageim and 19,000 Muslims. (World Watch Monitor)

“At 9pm, a great deal of Muslim villagers gathered and began to attack us,” said Girgis. “The situation was very terrible for all of us. They attacked Coptic-owned homes randomly, they hurled bricks and stones at the homes, destroying the windows and doors of these homes, destroying and looting the properties.”

Girgis said two more Coptic men and a woman were injured, and that several shops and vehicles were destroyed, as the mob targeted Adib Hanna Street, which has only Coptic residents. (There are around 4,000 Copts in Ezbat El-Sheikh Nageim and 19,000 Muslims.)

A church was also pelted with stones, before security officials returned to the village and made several arrests. World Watch Monitor understands that as many as 100 people were initially detained, and that 19 of them are still being held. (The local police also ordered the arrest of the two Copts, but they are yet to be detained as both had left the village and neither has returned.)

A Coptic mother of two, who did not wish to be named, told World Watch Monitor about the moment her house was attacked.

“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.”

“It was around 10pm and we were sleeping when we were suddenly woken up by the sound of broken windows,” she said. “They were pelting our home with bricks and stones, they were shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ [Allah is the greatest].

“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.

“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.”

The next day, 15 September, the Minya Governor visited the village, accompanied by the Minya head of security and a number of parliamentarians, and met with local Christian and Muslim leaders in an attempt to broker peace.

Minya's Governor, Essam el-Bedawi, said Egypt wouldn't be divided and that those who wished to create sectarian divides would
Essam el-Bedawi, said those who wished to create sectarian divides in Egypt would “never succeed”. (World Watch Monitor)

After the meeting, the governor, Essam el-Bedawi, said Egypt wouldn’t be divided and that those who wished to create sectarian divides would “never succeed”.

“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.”

That same evening, Bassem Abdel-Malak Fahim wrote a new post on his Facebook page, apologising 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.”