Since the Christmas Eve Massacre on January 6,2010, when six Copts were killed and nine seriously injured by Muslims in a drive-by shooting outside a church in Nag Hammadi (AINA 1-7-2010), the Coptic Patriarchate in Cairo has become a Mecca for oppressed Copts from all over Egypt.
Nearly every Wednesday, when Coptic Pope Shenouda III gives his weekly sermon, Copts go to complain to the Pope and make known their grievances to other Copts who never come to hear about those cases due to media blackout. They hope to meet with human rights activists attending the sermon without fear of getting arrested by State Security for congregating under the prevailing emergency laws.
Coptic human rights activist Dr. Fawzy Hermina has called the large courtyard of the Patriarchate the "Coptic Hyde Park."
Last week a group of nearly 50 Coptic men from the village of Azeem in Samalout, Minya province, came to expose "slavery-related" practices against Copts by certain radical Muslim families in their village. They called on human rights organizations for support. They met with activists from Coptic NGOs and appeared on US-based Coptic human rights channel Hope-Sat, which promised support through their lawyers in Egypt.
Bassem Shehata, 25, an IT graduate who attended the rally at the Patriarchate, said in an aired interview with Coptic activist Wagih Yacoub "We live in utter slavery. If Copts, some of whom are landowners, disobey orders of the big Muslim families, they are flogged." Bassem said that last year his 14-year-old brother Shenouda was tied by members of a Muslim family to a pole, beaten and tortured in front of his father just because the father did not lend them his tractor. "Each time my father begged for mercy for his child, he was also beaten." He said despite the family feeling "broken inside" his father refused to report the incident, fearing reprisals from the Muslim family.
Bassem said that young Christians work without pay on Muslim land. "I had to go because I was afraid they would harm my father."
Protester Kamil Sami said "We came out in the open because we cannot take this injustice any longer." He added they feel sorry for their families who have "inherited" the trait of giving up their rights. "We feel obliged to help our families to change the circumstances under which they are living."
Isaac Bebawy summarized the problem by saying the nearly 1000 Copts in the village of 3000 live in servitude to Muslim families, especially a large one called Al-Khawaimin, which includes the mayor, the village Shaikh, a large number of relatives and their friends. Copts are not allowed to sell their livestock on the market but have to sell it to Muslims in the village at a fraction of their fair price, and hire agricultural machinery only from village Muslims at the highest prices. "If Copts do not obey, they are subjected to harsh punishments," he said. "These include threats of killings, abduction of girls, destruction of crops, burning of houses and beatings."
Another protester, George Sidhom, said that Muslim often stop Christians from going to church services in the neighboring village.
After presenting a complaint at the Ministry of Interior in Cairo and meeting with Pope Shenouda's secretary, the group returned to their village where they were approached for a "reconciliation."
They presented their demands, which were published on Freecopts' website, among which was freedom to sell their cattle, land and property to anyone, not to be prevented from going to the cattle market (they named a couple of people), not to have their land torched (they named two people), the freedom to hire agricultural machinery from any source, not to interfere with opening hours of Coptic small businesses, to stop subjecting Coptic school children and youth to harassment by Muslim families while moving about in the village or while going to religious services, pledging not to demand that Copts of any age go to work without pay (here they named 3 people and their families), and finally not to subject Copts of any age to harassment, threats or beating (they named 7 Muslims). They also wanted Security authorities present during reconciliation.
Muslim families refused their demands, especially selling cattle on the open market. "There were other freedom restricting conditions, surprisingly they wanted Copts not to walk together," said Abdallah Bouchra to Freecopts. Besides these draconian conditions, Copts were threatened with more assaults after the Muslim Feast "Eid," this week. "We know for sure that they will carry out their threats, since it is also certain that State Security colludes with them," said Abdallah.
"To see that nowadays Muslims force Coptic men to work for free, that farmers have to sell their livestock and property only to certain Muslims at a fraction of their price, or prevent people from taking buses to go and pray in another village is slavery," commented Wagih Yacoub. "It is something that the whole world needs to know is happening in our day and age in Egypt."
By Mary Abdelmassih