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Sectarian Events


Rioting in Fayoum


Nader Shukry-Emad Khalil


 Copts property destroyed and looted


Two years ago 23-year-old Dimiana Makram Hanna went  missing from her home in the village of al-Nazla in Fayoum, 100km southwest Cairo. Dimiana’s parents reported her missing at the local police station, and were told a few days later that she had converted to Islam and married one Mohamed al-Sayed Zaki. As is customary, the police refused to let the young woman’s parents or the local church priest see her, and the family realised they had forever lost their daughter.


A few months later, however, the family fell victim to a swindler who persuaded them he could let them see their missing daughter whose address he claimed to know. When her brothers Maged and Boutros Hanna, accompanied by friends from Cairo, headed to that address they were captured by the police, charged with attempting to abduct their sister, thrown into prison for two weeks, and were only released following huge demonstrations by Copts.


Dimiana’s brothers went home but later relocated in Cairo, since Zaki had himself relocated in Nazla and the pressure of the social humiliation and the security threats against getting near to their sister were too much to bear. They had heard rumours that their sister was unhappy and maltreated by her husband, and they were powerless to help.

Running away
On Friday 20 June rioting erupted in Nazla as Muslim villagers went on a looting and destruction rampage against Copts’ homes, businesses, and cars following news that Dimiana—known as Dalia Mohamed since she converted—together with her 10-month baby Seif al-Islam, had run away from her husband a day earlier while on a visit to Cairo.


The rioting started on Friday afternoon when Muslims roaring Islamic slogans began to attack Copts’ houses and shops. Although local security officials had anticipated the rioting and called for extra forces from the neighbouring village to stop any attack, they could neither prevent the attack nor stop it once it started. They finally resorted to the use of tear gas to disband the rioters, and were able to control the main streets but not the side streets.


Even the village church and the priest’s home were attacked. The rampage lasted until the early hours of dawn of the following day. Security officials imposed a day-long curfew and attempted to hold a reconciliation meeting after they had found Dimiana and returned her to her husband. But the Copts refused to reconcile without the payment of indemnity for their lost and damaged property.

More than 20 businesses including pharmacies, groceries and electrical appliance shops were ransacked, three cars were destroyed, two houses burnt down and the church’s windows shattered. One Muslim, Ahmed al-Sheemi, fell over a rock and died; his family said that he had had a heart attack.

That same police
Fayez Zaki who owns a timber store told Watani that a large number of Muslims fanned out destroying, burning, and looting. They beat and abused the Copts. “My store was completely destroyed,” he lamented. “Some Muslims attempted to kidnap my son Nader but were stopped by some others. I was astonished for I have good relations with my Muslim neighbours so I could find no logical explanation for what happened. I went to the police and reported the incident.”

Adel Halim, a labourer, said that he returned home from work in the neighbouring village to find the doors and windows of his home ruined, all the electric appliances stolen and even the beds broken.
“The security officials questioned me and my brother from 1:00pm to 3:00pm about what they said was Dimiana’s disappearance and asked for our help to bring her back,” Samir Hanna, Dimiana’s uncle, told Watani. “We said we knew nothing about her since she left; even her brothers had left the village. When we finally left the police station we were surprised by the attack against the Copts. I hurried home to find my home attacked and looted.”

Dimiana’s other uncle Gamil Hanna said that if it were not for his Muslim neighbours, his house would have been torched by the mob. “The police did not come till it was too late. And then they seemed actually happy that we were being ruined,” he said.

It is common knowledge that Dimiana had fled a husband she did not wish to live with. She stayed away for some two days then, hearing of the riots in her village and the great harm inflicted upon the Copts, and that her uncles had been questioned by the police, she handed herself in on Friday evening.

No business
Ra’fat Samir, a rights activist, said that the young woman today called Dalia Mohamed ran away from her husband, while on a visit with him to a cousin in a Cairo hospital. The police said she had fled, taking her baby boy with her, to her brothers in Cairo. When her husband returned home to Nazla and the story of her disappearance became public, people believed her brothers had abducted her and her baby. Some 4,000 Muslim villagers gathered and began attacking the Copts’ homes and businesses, shouting “Kill the infidels”. Security forces surrounded the village and used tear gas to disperse the crowds, but could not control the situation. The Copts were terrified and suffered heavy losses in their homes, property, and businesses.


Fr Shenouda of the village church described the incident as terrorism directed against innocent people who have no business with the young woman’s story that ended two years ago. Along the same line, Ezzat Labib who is a member of the local council, said that the incident was in no way justified, since the Copts had no business whatsoever with the woman who ran away from her husband in Cairo. Mr Labib’s home was attacked, and his wife and brother were beaten up.

Mr Labib told Watani that it was common knowledge that the young woman had not been abducted by her brothers. “She ran away of her own free will since she was constantly abused by her husband. The police knew that very well,” he said.


Mr Labib said the Copts had made more than 40 official complaints about the losses they incurred in the rioting. The police detained 15 of the attackers. The prosecution ordered the release of 11 of them, and extended the detention of the other four pending investigation.


Source: Watani Weekly, 29 June 2008

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