Dubious police work shows full civil rights remain elusive for Egypt's Christians
"Our village has only 10 Coptic families and all of them are simple people. There is no church and Copts don't stir up any trouble that would prompt someone to kidnap the girl."
NEW YORK—Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has made significant gestures that signal a commitment to the interests of the country’s Christian minority. His efforts appear sincere, but at the grassroots level the country’s Copts continue to suffer discrimination, harassment and violence at the hands of Muslims—with local authorities regularly turning a blind eye on abuses.
Two incidents that took place in last month—reported by MidEast Christian News (MCN)—offer fresh evidence:
In the early morning hours of June 24, 2015, 17 year-old Coptic teenager Mariam Youssef was abducted by four young men right in front of her house where she lives with her widowed father, Maher Youssef, in the village of Beni Suef, in Upper Egypt. Soon afterward, the distraught elder Youssef was informed by several Muslim men of the abductors’ identity. One of the men turned out to be a neighbor, the other three having criminal records.
Still, Mr. Youssef could not bring local police to let him file a complaint to formally open an investigation. Authorities instead sought to blame the matter on the girl’s upset state of mind, because she had quarreled with her father the night before her disappearance. Police did question the families of the suspects, but they denied all knowledge and were not pressed to prevail upon their relatives to release Mariam.
MCN reporter Erin Moussa, who interviewed Mr. Youssef, reported that such intransigence on the part of police is quite common in the case of kidnappings that have the aim of forcing young women to convert to Islam—and that such cases are numerous.
One of Mariam’s relatives commented: “Our village has only 10 Coptic families and all of them are simple people. There is no church and Copts don’t stir up any trouble that would prompt someone to kidnap the girl.”
Then, more ominously, there was the mysterious death—sometime during the week of June 22, 2015—of Coptic army conscript Bahaa Gamal Mikhail, a 24 year-old from the village of Rizqa, near the city of Assiut. His family—informed by military authorities to collect his body from a Cairo morgue—indirectly learned of the official account that the young man, who was the only Christian in his battalion, had supposedly committed suicide by shooting himself in the heart.
The family, upon inspecting the body, found traces of two bullets and an injury to this forehead. The morgue handed over the body in what MCN reported was “suspicious haste.”
Mikhail’s parish priest, Father Youannis Saad rejected rumors—which he claimed had been spread by the battalion—that the conscript was depressed. His mother, too, confirmed that he had been in good spirits; he also was considering joining a monastery. Just before his death, Mikhail played music in front of the battalion commander. Father Saad spoked of his strong suspicion that Mikhail was murdered.
A similar case was reported in August of 2013, involving the alleged suicide of another Coptic recruit, Abu al-Khair Atta. Apparently, shortly before his death, a fellow soldier had invited him to embrace Islam. Military officials refused to perform an autopsy.
In his battle against Muslim extremism, Egypt’s president can count on Christian support; it is to be hoped that government authorities will reciprocate by strengthening the rule of law at the grassroots level so that Christians will be granted the same rights as all Egyptian citizens—and that cases violence and other crimes aimed at them will be investigated and persecuted to the full extent of the law.
Photos courtesy of MCNdirect.com: Mariam Youssef & Bahaa Gamal Mikhail