A Coptic Christian was killed
and several others were injured in Upper Egypt after Muslims on Sunday attacked a predominantly Christian village following an
argument between a Muslim and Christian.
The attack at
Nazlet Faragallah village in Minya, 218 kilometers south of
Cairo, lasted until Monday morning, Christians said. The
attackers raided an unknown number of homes owned by Christian villagers
and set eight on fire, area residents said.
killed Maher Nassif, 46, a civil servant and livestock farmer, when he
tried to defend his home. The men burst into Nassif’s house, shot him in
the head and slit his throat while his teenage son watched from under a
bed where he was hiding, Christian villagers said. The men looted the
home and stole Nassif’s livestock as his son escaped into the night,
according to villagers who spoke with the boy.
Melad Thabet, a 25-year-old teacher, said he spent the night of the
attack listening to gunfire and the sound of people “weeping and
screaming in the village.”
“Any [Christian-owned] house
close to a Muslim house was looted and attacked,” Thabet told Compass.
“And if someone had stood up to them, they would have killed them as
they did with Maher.”
Initial reports on what sparked the
attack varied widely, but as the dust settled the general consensus was
that on Saturday a Muslim man driving a three-wheeled taxi
known across Egypt as a touk-touk had an argument with a Coptic
woman in Nazlet Faragallah. The nature of the argument could not be
confirmed, but several Coptic men came to the aid of the woman, ending
Several hours later, a group of Muslims
arrived at the village church and started pelting congregants with rocks
as they left the building, villagers said. The Copts responded in kind.
Several people suffered cuts and bruises, and some of the windows of
the church building were broken.
According to Thabet, the
leader of the Muslims attacking the church was the cousin of the man
involved in the initial argument involving the Coptic woman. He is also a
police lieutenant stationed in the village. The lieutenant was hit in
the face with a rock, Thabet said.
In response to the
villagers’ claims, police have issued their own report about the
incident, stating that it started on Sunday after a Coptic man
began screaming insults and throwing rocks at Muslims exiting prayer at
one of the two mosques near the village. Thabet said this version
“doesn’t make any sense.”
One mosque is in a Muslim area,
and any Copt going there “would be killed,” he said. The other mosque
near the village, he added, is located at the far edge of the community
and only one Muslim attends it—the man who opened it.
Regardless of what triggered the incident, by Sunday groups of Muslim
men carrying long knives and automatic weapons were seen gathering
around the village.
“They went around all the neighboring
villages spreading a rumor that ‘the Christians burned the mosque and
killed some Muslim people,’ which isn’t true,” Thabet said. “And we
suddenly found that the village was surrounded by Muslims from
Late that night, after the Ramadan fast had ended for the day, the attacks began, Thabet and other sources said.
Waiting for the Army
Running through the community shooting rifles into the air and screaming, “Allahu Akbar [God is greater],” the Muslim villagers attacked houses and businesses isolated on the edge of the village, Thabet said.
They forced the victims out of their homes and then looted their
property, he said, and not all homes were set on fire. Thabet named six
different families whose homes were destroyed but said a total of eight
homes were torched, and not all homes that were looted were set ablaze.
The house of the parish priest was razed. He hid on the upper floors
of his home during the attack and somehow escaped the fire with only
minor scrapes and bruises, according to Thabet.
Faragallah is a Christian-majority village surrounded by a string of
Muslim villages. The villagers are largely impoverished and make their
living by farming and doing sporadic work at a nearby rock quarry.
During the attack, only 10 soldiers and one officer were posted to
Nazlet Faragallah, an area with a combined population of about 10,000
people, according to 2006 United Nations population figures. Thabet said
that in addition to a lack of manpower, the army isn’t equipped to stop
violence in the community. Because of this, he said, local soldiers are
simply unwilling to get involved in any disputes.
It took some four hours for soldiers to get back up from other army units in the area, he said.
“Every time we asked him [a police officer] to get involved to stop
what was happening, he kept saying he was ‘waiting for the army,’”
Thabet said. “Even when they [police] came, the number was very, very
small. It didn’t help at all. They weren’t even able to protect
themselves. They didn’t even have weapons; they had sticks. Having
sticks is not the right thing to face machine guns.”
According to the Egyptian newspaper Watani,
seven Muslims were arrested because of the incident. One Coptic man was
arrested and charged with illegal possession of weapons. Some fear he
was arrested to give officials a bargaining tool to force the Copts into
a “reconciliation meeting” agreement with unfavorable terms.
Based on the concept of traditional tribal meetings, such
reconciliation meetings are ostensibly meant for parties to come to
amicable solutions outside of court. In reality however, the meetings
are used to deny Copts their rights when they are attacked, human rights
activists in Egypt say.
A reconciliation meeting took place
on Tuesday, said Zakaria, a Coptic villager who would only
give his first name. He said Muslims and Christians involved apologized
for the incident, and the council agreed to fine anyone else causing
Nassif’s killer has not yet been arrested,
in spite of being identified by his son. Zakaria said the atmosphere in
the village was so tense on Monday morning, after the attacks, that
Christians buried Nassif’s body outside of the village.
“They usually hold the funeral prayers in the village, but because of
what happened they had to do it outside the village,” he said.
said relations between Christians and Muslims in Egypt have gotten much
worse since the Jan. 25-Feb. 11 revolution. He blamed worsened relations
on the increased radicalization of certain Muslims in Egypt who want to
“complete their faith by killing Christians.”
An incident like the one in Nazlet Faragallah can happen “for any silly reason,” he said.
“What does it do if you just keep chanting ‘Islam! Islam!’ when there
is a stupid problem between two ordinary people in the village?” he
asked rhetorically. “There is no relation between two people just having
an ordinary argument and having religion getting involved in it.
Sometimes religion controls people. They don’t think, they just do.”
Thabet said he has fled his home in anticipation of other attacks.
Keeping in touch with his neighbors by phone, he said that at night
there are still skirmishes on the edges of the village.
house near the fields and away from anything can get looted and
attacked by the thugs and these people,” he said. “A lot of the
villagers have left to escape with their lives. All our young men have
locked themselves in their houses and try to hide, just waiting for
whatever is going to happen to them—either waiting for their house to
be burned or for somebody to get in and attack them.”
Zakaria confirmed that many residents have fled the village.
“In the beginning, the people who were leaving were the women and
children,” he said, adding that now “the people who live in the houses
at the edge of the village” are leaving too.
unable to leave, he said, because it was still too dangerous to pass
through the villages surrounding Nazlet Faragallah on foot.
Thabet said he doesn’t think the village will be safe again.
“When I was in the village, I saw my family and friends getting shot
at, and I couldn’t do anything for them,” he said. “I didn’t know who to
contact, who to call to protect us. I hope God protects us.”