Christian family evicted from Egypt town (AP) Associated Press) By AYA BATRAWY CAIRO, EGYPT 03/21/12 3:56 am ET)
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CAIRO – Nabil Gergis, a Coptic Christian, lived for nearly two
decades in the Egyptian town of Amriya, raising his children and
managing a modest business. Those ties couldn´t protect him after a
sex video purportedly showing his brother with a Muslim woman began
Angry residents in the conservative, Muslim-majority town held
protests and set fire to the Gergis family businesses. None of the
attackers was prosecuted. Instead, a committee of tribal elders,
local lawmakers and security officials ordered the 11 members of the
Gergis family — the brother, Nabil and others — to leave town.
The story of Amriya demonstrates one of the reasons Egypt´s Coptic
Christian minority and even some in the Muslim majority feel the
situation is precarious, particularly since the ouster of former
President Hosni Mubarak a year ago. The rule of law, they and human
rights groups say, is being eclipsed by such "reconciliation
councils," trying to fill the security vacuum left by Mubarak´s fall.
"There is no law that would have found me responsible for anything,
and under the law I would have never been kicked out of my home,"
said Nabil Gergis. He said he, his wife and their two children do not
know who to turn to protect their rights and that he feels the
government has turned its back on them.
Egypt´s Copts are mourning Pope Shenouda II, who led the Church for
40 years and died on Saturday. "Baba Shenouda," as he was called, was
seen by many in the community as their biggest protector in a country
where Christians make up about 10 percent of a population of 85
Shenouda´s approach was deeply conservative. He was a close ally of
Mubarak during the former president´s 29-year rule and used his
influence behind the scenes to try to ensure some protections for
Christians. But he largely resisted any public protests or pressure.
His critics among the Coptic community say that left Christians´
rights dependent on personal relations rather than enforced by law.
Reconciliation meetings were not unusual under Mubarak´s regime.
Muslim-Christian violence broke out occasionally in towns of the
south, sometimes in local disputes that turned sectarian. Rather than
prosecuting those responsible, local leaders and security officials
would often insist on negotiated solutions to keep the peace — or,
critics say, because they were reluctant to confront Muslims involved
in the incidents.
The Amriya case was unique because the punishment was so extensive.
The town is comprised of scattered villages with some 500,000
residents, about 15 percent of them are Christian.
The incident erupted in late January, when the explicit video
allegedly showing Nabil Gergis´ brother with a Muslim woman
circulated on residents´ cell phones. The brother, who is married,
has denied any affair.
Any sex outside of marriage is a lightning rod for controversy in the
Muslim world, where a woman´s chastity is vociferously protected by
her family. That a Christian man might have an affair with a Muslim
woman only further fanned the flames.
The rumors sparked widespread protests by Amriya residents, who are
mostly tribal and deeply traditional. Angry residents set fire to
three stores owned by the Gergis´ family, which were under their
homes. Some Muslim residents tried to help, but were outnumbered by
the ultraconservative rioters.
Police showed up hours later and instead of investigating the attack
called in the brother for questioning, Gergis said.
With tempers still high, local officials and tribal leaders held a
series of meetings and decided to order the expulsion of the entire
Gergis family. A Muslim family who had fired shots in the air during
the protest to protect their property were initially told they must
leave too, but were later allowed to return.
Amriya police argued that they could not guarantee the Gergis
family´s safety in the face of angry protesters, according to
security officials and the Gergis family. Last week, with the family
gone, their homes were robbed of cash and other belongings they had
to leave behind, Gergis said.
An Egyptian rights group that looked into the case, the Egyptian
Initiative for Personal Rights, criticized the expulsion, saying the
victims were forced to accept "the outcomes of illegal reconciliation
processes" and to abandon their rights.
Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher with the group, warns that the breakdown
of security since Mubarak´s fall could lead to an even greater
dependence on such "reconciliation meetings."
"When the state´s authority is eroded, then the community turns to
its own leaders to solve the crisis," he said. "The problem is that
the outcomes are not consistent. It also means that Christians or the
side that is weaker will be at a disadvantage, and so this affects
The unreliability of the law has hurt Christians in other ways. One
sore point is the construction of churches, which requires
permissions from security officials and was rarely granted. In
response, Christians often built churches secretly, and in several
instances in recent years Muslim mobs attacked the construction.
Again, perpetrators of such attacks were almost never prosecuted.
Since Mubarak´s fall, there has been talk of a law putting
construction of mosques and churches under equal rules, but no law
has been passed.
A series of attacks over the last year has also stoked Christian
fears. A year ago, a Muslim-Christian love affair led a Muslim mob to
torch a church in the village of Soul, 18 miles (30 kilometers) south
of Cairo. Christians protesting the burning were attacked by a mob;
13 people died and 140 injured.
In May, ultraconservative followers of the Salafi trend of Islam
burnt a church in the Cairo working-class district of Imbaba and
clashed with Christians, leaving 12 people dead. Many of the rioters
believed that a Christian woman who fell in love with a Muslim man
had converted to Islam and was being held prisoner by the church.
In October, a Cairo protest led by Copts demanding greater rights was
crushed by soldiers, leaving 27 people, mostly Copts, dead.
The Gergis family is now living with relatives in Alexandria. Nabil
Gergis said neither the police nor government officials have
responded to his pleas for help.
"The only thing that this means is that police don´t want us in the
country," he said. "It´s a feeling that I cannot describe. My
children don´t have a home anymore." (© 2012 The Associated Press
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