Muslim Mob in Egypt Attacks Christian Copts, Burns Several Homes

Violence sparked by rumors of alleged affair between Christian man and Muslim woman.

Hamza Hendawi
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Coptic Christians walk outside St. Markos Church in Minya, south of Cairo, Egypt, January 6, 2015.
Coptic Christians walk outside St. Markos Church in Minya, south of Cairo, Egypt, January 6, 2015.Credit: Roger Anis, AP
Hamza Hendawi

AP - A Muslim mob ransacked and torched seven Christian homes in a province south of the Egyptian capital, Cairo, after rumors spread that a Christian man had an affair with a Muslim woman, according to a statement by the local Orthodox Coptic church.

Released late Wednesday, it said that during the May 20 attack, the mother of the Christian man, who had fled the village, was publicly stripped of her clothes by the mob to humiliate her.

Security officials said the woman was beaten and insulted while being paraded by the mob through the village. They said the mob was made of about 300 men.

The officials spoke on Thursday on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Ex-marital affairs or sex between unmarried couples are a taboo among both Muslims and Christians in conservative Egypt. They often attract violent reactions in rural areas, where questions of honor could lead to deadly family feuds that endure for years or the ostracization of the perpetrators.

Police arrived at the scene nearly two hours after the attacks began and arrested six people, according to the statement by Minya's top cleric, Anba Makarios. He said the family of the Christian man had notified the police of threats against them by Muslim villagers the day before the attack.

"No one did anything and the police took no pre-emptive or security measures in anticipation of the attacks," he told a television interviewer Wednesday night. "We are not living in a jungle or a tribal society. It's incorrect for anyone to declare himself judge, police and ruler."

Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's 90 million people, have long complained of discrimination in the mostly Muslim nation. President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, in office since 2014, has sought to address some of their grievances, changing election laws to allow more Christians into the national legislature and easing restrictions on building new churches and renovating old ones.

But many Christians say they are still consistently victimized when in dispute with Muslims.

Criminal gangs have often targeted wealthy Christian families south of Cairo in recent years, kidnapping their children for ransom. There have also been scores of cases in recent years of underage Christian girls lured away from their families by Muslim men who force them to convert and keep them in hiding until they reach adulthood. Christians often complain that police don't do enough to pursue the Muslim perpetrators.

Makarios also told the television interviewer Wednesday night that the late arrival of the police gave the attackers "ample time" to do what they had set out to do. With uncharacteristic candor, he said that the crisis in the village will most likely be handled through a government-sponsored meeting of the two sides in which the Christians will be forced to accept "humiliating" conditions for reconciliation.

He said there would have hardly been a reaction were it a case of a Muslim man having an affair with a Christian woman. "If that was the case, the Christian response would not have been anything like what happened," he explained.

"It is a disgrace for honest men to remain silent while accepting, seeing or hearing this."

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