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Allowing for the rule of law
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 01 - 06 - 2016

Al-Minya has a long history of sectarian strife. In the latest incident, on 20 May, 70-year-old Soad Thabet was dragged from her home in the village of Al-Karm by a mob of Muslim extremists. The men stripped her naked in the street and set fire to her house. A total of seven Christian homes were torched in the ensuing violence. The events were said to have been sparked by a groundless rumour.
Addressing the incident, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi urged unity, saying, “We are all one and we are all equal in our rights and duties.” He referred to the victim as the “Egyptian woman”, adding no qualifying adjectives to indicate religious or other affiliations.
“What happened can never be repeated. Anyone who commits a crime will be brought to justice,” said Al-Sisi. He went on to caution against all forms of discrimination and attempts to divide the Egyptian people.
Following the attack, Pope Tawadros II, patriarch of the Sea of St. Marks, warned against those who might seek to exploit the incident for political ends. During a meeting with members of the Coptic community in Austria he said that the Coptic Church has always rejected foreign intervention in Egyptian affairs. He noted that some countries are trying to exploit the Coptic issue in order to meddle in Egypt's domestic politics.
Father Makarios, bishop of the diocese of Minya and Abu Qurqas, who has been delegated by the Church to manage the crisis in Al-Karm, welcomed Al-Sisi's speech and his commitment to the rule of law. “The president's words were the best response to those who are denying reality. They put paid to informal solutions and the efforts of those who hope to promote them,” he told Al-Ahram Weekly.
The bishop urged the courts to act quickly to bring the criminals to justice and cautioned against leaving the doors open to foreign intervention in Egyptian affairs.
In a telephone interview with a TV news programme, Makarios said he had received many calls from individuals abroad offering support. In all cases, he said, he had refused attempts by foreign parties to intervene in Egypt's domestic affairs.
Makarios also offered an account of the attack. A mob stormed Thabet's house, dragged her outside, ripped off her clothes and dragged her into the street where they threw her to the ground. She managed to crawl under a small cart where a woman gave her some clothes, which she put on before fleeing from the mob and taking a bus into the city.
According to Makarios, Soad was initially silent about the attack. “However, she could not tolerate the sense of humiliation more than three days, at which point she summoned the courage to go to the police station and file a complaint.” Yet even though officials at the station could see the bruises that were still visible on her body they forced her to wait several hours.
Ecclesiastical sources say lawyers and rights activists have been invited to the US Congress and the UK Houses of Commons and Lords to discuss the issue. Makarios, in another telephone interview with a news station, underscored the attention the incident was receiving in the international media.
Fadi Youssef, founder of the Copts of Egypt Coalition, described the events in Al-Minya as a “humanitarian concern” that had been taken up internationally “while in Egypt we try to dismiss or totally deny it”.
“That is why I ask the Egyptian government to resolve this crisis in order to obviate attempts at foreign intervention,” said Youssef, echoing statements made by Pope Tawadros and Bishop Makarios.
“The government must live up to our confidence and enforce the law to safeguard its own image. It should not pursue informal arbitration which ultimately sacrifices the rights of individuals and fails to protect their dignity.”
A joint statement released by the Union of European Coptic Organisations and other rights groups condemned the incident in the Upper Egyptian village of Al-Karm. The statement called for the dismissal and prosecution of local officials in Minya and demanded the government deal with the crisis transparently.
Abbas Shuman, deputy chair of Al-Azhar, described what has become known in the media as “the Lady from Minya case” as “a dispute between siblings” that has nothing to do with religion. He said that Al-Azhar and the Coptic Church are united in refusing to allow sectarian strife to divide the ranks of the Egyptian people and noted that a delegation consisting of both Al-Azhar and Church officials had gone to Minya in an attempt to contain the situation and show solidarity with Thabet.
Stressing the importance of pursuing measures that could resolve the crisis quickly, he said the dispute could have erupted within either the Muslim or Christian communities and should not be viewed through an exclusively sectarian lens.

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