Forced Migration, Murder, and More: A Week in the Life of Egypt’s Copts

Published on 20.07.2023
Reading time: 8 minutes

On July 9, 2019, Daraj published this “look into a week in the life of Egypt’s Christians,” for which author Patrick George was sentenced to prison for three years. He was behind bars for 22 months. This week he was ordered to go back to prison, before being pardoned.

Not a month goes by without Egypt’s Christians experiencing 8 to 10 tragedies ranging from forcible migration and kidnapping to the closure of one church, the bombing of another, and even murder of a Christian, who is then said to have been “disturbed or mentally deranged.”

This article provides a simple look into one week in the life of Egypt’s Christians. One week is enough to portray the magnitude of the ordeal that they are faced with. 

During the first days of Eid al-Fitr, Egypt witnessed a massive terrorist attack which resulted in 14 state security casualties holding various ranks in both police and army. Not one Christian name was mentioned, which caused many to be surprised when a military funeral was held for Abanoub Marzouk, a Christian officer who hails from the village of Bani Qara, part of the town of El-Quseyya in the Assiut Governorate. 

I published a blog post in which I asked about the reasons behind the media blackout regarding Abanoub. As a result, I was attacked by social media users, as well as Egyptian reporters, who told me blackouts were the norm, as the armed forces do not disclose the names of martyrs who died in terrorist attacks in Sinai for security reasons and to keep up morale of the forces stationed there. 

The pressure led me to delete the blog. “Maybe I thought negatively too quickly,” I told myself. “Maybe this is not necessarily discriminatory.” I apologized to my colleagues as well. 

A few hours later, news began circulating about clashes between village dwellers and the armed forces in Abanoub Marzouk’s hometown, after the latter had decided to name a village school after Marzouk, which the former vehemently refused as Marzouk was Christian. 

The media did not shed much light on the case, but a number of journalists and Christian activists made sure their objections were heard. 

Nader Chukri, a reporter on Christian affairs in Egypt, wrote: “The governor’s secretary told Abanoub’s brother Najeh ‘If I go to a wedding, and give away ten pounds as a gift, you cannot ask me to pay a hundred’ in response to Abanoub’s brother’s refusal to name an insignificant bridge after his brother.’”

“The person who refused to name the school after Abanoub is not from the Islamic Brotherhood, nor a Salafi, nor a militant extremist,” Ishac Ibrahim, a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights commented on Facebook. 

“Do not be a coward,” he continued. “Say that he is a state official who holds discriminatory convictions. Any talk of accusing religious groups is a diffusion of responsibility. When criticized for deciding not to put Abanoub’s name on the school, the Assiut authorities proceeded to put his name on a small bridge over one of the canals in the village, despite the opposition of the family of the deceased!”

“It is clear the governorate wanted to satisfy all parties – and they did so by formally putting his name somewhere, while moving away from the trouble of putting his name on the school. It is noteworthy that the names of bridges and streets in the villages are of no importance whatsoever. They are not even formalized and often not known by the general public.”

In another post, Ibrahim pointed at the absence of the state and state officials condoning systemic discrimination by the village residents.Accordng to him, they crumbled under pressure and ended up not naming the school after the fallen soldier. 

The Egyptian government dealt with the situation in a wrong and rather negative way, not taking any conclusive measures. Instead, the governor had to intervene. 

When I tried to understand how the governor solved the problem, it turned out that he had named one of the bridges currently under construction at the entrance of the village after Marzouk. Thus the problem was solved. All the problems of Christians in Egypt are solved through a “bridge.”

When looking at the ways in which Abanoub’s fellow soldiers, who fell victim to the same or other terrorist attacks, were honored, one finds that the government has named a good number of streets, schools, and popular squares after those who were killed in attacks since the beginning of 2013 until today. This prompts one to wonder why the government dealt with the case of Marzouk in this peculiar way. 

Men have the same share as women, even when Christian!

“We do not have such words in the Egyptian judiciary – ‘for the man has the same share as two women,’” said the judge in a recent report issued by the court regarding the inheritance case of human rights lawyer Hoda Nasrallah. 

After Hoda’s father passed away, she decided to fight her own battle, not just for her sake, but for the sake of every Christian woman. She sought to obtain the same share of the inheritance as her two brothers after agreeing with them to divide the inheritance equally. 

Article 3 of the 2014 constitution states that: The principles of the laws of Egyptian Christians and Jews are the main source of laws regulating their personal status, religious affairs, and selection of spiritual leaders.”

Article 245 of the Coptic Orthodox Regulations (1938) on inheritance states that “the descendants of the inheritor take precedence over other relatives in the inheritance. As such, they must take all the estate or what is left of it after fulfilling the share of the husband or wife of the deceased. If there were many branches of relatives of the same degree, the estate is to be divided among them in equal shares, with no difference between males and females.”

Hoda rejected her brothers’ initial proposal to go through  the usual procedures of the judicial authorities, instead aiming for the inheritance to be divided among her and her brothers equally. 

Hoda had a goal that reached beyond her personal cause, namely, to derail the laws that further contribute to the injustice faced by Christian women in the Egyptian Personal Status Law on a variety of issues ranging from separation to inheritance. 

Many Christian men take advantage of the Egyptian judiciary’s lack of recognition of Christianity in national inheritance legislation to take more than what they are entitled to. Thus, Egyptian law has become an obstacle for especially Christian women to obtain their rights.

This exhibits only one form of oppression to which Christian women are subjected under Islamic law. Although these laws do not exist in Christianity, the patriarchy in Egypt thrives, as it is supported and justified by the law. 

“We will not accept your testimony because you are Christian!”

A few weeks ago, a Facebook post with the title above went viral. It detailed what happened to Mr. Estephanos in a courtroom. 

Mr. Estephanos is an engineer who worked in a government institution for over 35 years. He went to court to testify in a case that involved one of his colleagues, only for the judge to reject his testimony on the ground that he is Christian: “And there is no guardianship of a Copt over a Muslim.” 

Mr. Estephanos and his son, Dr. Mark Estephanos, felt very distressed. As a result, the latter published a post on the matter, indicating that such events make him think of leaving Egypt, as he does not enjoy the same rights as others do. 

The issue was raised for the first time in 2008 when Ahmed Shafiq, a Muslim citizen, requested the testimony of his Christian neighbor, Sami Farag, in the “Inheritance Media Case 1824.” 

The court rejected Farag’s testimony on the pretext that his testimony is not legally permissible. The court then forced Shafiq to find a Muslim witness.

Going back to the constitution

We find there is a clear contradiction regarding the right to testify and its supposed limitations. Article 2 of the Constitution states that “Islam is the religion of the state and Arabic is its official language. The principles of Islamic Sharia are the principle source of legislation.”

Article 53 states that: “Citizens are equal before the law, possess equal rights and public duties, and may not be discriminated against on the basis of religion, belief, sex, origin, race, color, language, disability, social class, political or geographical affiliation, or for any other reason. Discrimination and incitement to hate are crimes punishable by law. The state shall take all necessary measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination, and the law shall regulate the establishment of an independent commission for this purpose.”

Yet, according to several texts, Islamic law does not accept the testimony of a non-Muslim. 

“There is nothing in the Law of Evidence between Christians and Muslims that prevents the testimony of any citizen from being accepted,” said Reda Bakir, a lawyer at Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. 

Referring to the Law of Evidence, it is clear that there is no legal ground that prevents the testimony of a non-Muslim.

“I tend to lean towards Islamic law in matters related to religious constants that are not disputed,” said former human rights lawyer and legal researcher Mohammad Hassan. “It is not a matter of legality, because there is no legal guardianship by a dhimmi over a Muslim. Historically, a person living in a region overrun by Muslims, who was given a protected status and allowed to retain his or her original faith. The state is in the home of Muslims, given that Egypt is the home of Islam, and the dhimmi pays a tax to facilitate his affairs.”

The above was a simple observation of what the Christian community in Egypt can experience in just one week.

Published on 20.07.2023
Reading time: 8 minutes

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