Egypt: Coptic Christian families return home after being forced to flee


Egypt has in the past been plagued by sectarian violence. Reuters


Coptic Christians forced to flee from their village in Egypt after facing allegations of blasphemy have now returned to their homes.

Interfaith initiatives by local authorities in the town of al-Fashn sought dialogue between Muslim and Christian communities after violence broke out and five families were expelled from a nearby village.

A man identified as Ayman Youssef Tawfig, from Kafr Darwish village, was accused of posting insulting cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad on Facebook. Though Tawfig denies this allegation, it sparked violence among local Muslim youths, who stoned and attacked Coptic homes in the village with Molotov cocktails. A car was also destroyed and a number of homes set on fire.

Some Muslims did try to protect those who were being attacked, and the police are said to have responded promptly to the violence.

Reconciliation meetings were held following the outbreak, but five families – including Tawfig, his elderly parents and his brothers’ families – were eventually asked to leave. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports that even after they had been driven out, their homes were set alight, crops destroyed and cattle killed.

Mayor of al-Fashn, Ahmed Maher, and Muhammad Selim of the Beni Suef governate since helped to establish conditions for the families to return safely.

Chief executive of CSW Mervyn Thomas branded the families’ initial eviction “unacceptable”, and said it highlights problems with the way sectarian violence is dealt with in Egypt.

“CSW urges the security forces in al-Fashn to investigate and to bring the perpetrators of this violence to justice,” he said in a statement.

“We urge the Interior Ministry and other authorities to end the use of reconciliation meetings to settle sectarian tensions, as these perpetuate impunity for the perpetrators, who face no consequences for their crimes. Local authorities must also ensure that the five families receive adequate and timely compensation.”

Egypt has historically been plagued by sectarian violence, but stores of unity have emerged in the wake of brutality perpetuated by Islamic State in the Middle East.

Muslims in a town north of Cairo have donated money towards the building of a Coptic church, and priests and Imams in Minya, the home province of the Coptic Chistians beheaded by ISIS earlier this year, are launching an initiative to encourage peaceful co-existence in schools.

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