On Sunday, March 17, the ruling court in Minya, Egypt, recused itself and stepped down from two ongoing cases concerning the victimization and killing of Coptic Christians. Due to this unexpected move, both cases—which had already been at court three and six years—must now be retried anew, a process that will likely take several more years to complete.
The first case concerns Soa‘d Thabet, a 70-year-old Coptic Christian grandmother. On May 20, 2016, a mob of some 300 Muslim men descended on her home, stripped her completely naked, beat, spit on, and paraded her in the streets of al-Karm village (in Minya governorate) to jeers, whistles, and triumphant shouts of “Allahu Akbar.”
Earlier that day she and her husband had gone to local police and complained that they were being harassed and threatened by neighborhood Muslims. Police responded by also threatening and ordering them out of the station. A few hours later, the attack came. It took the same local police over two hours to appear, giving the mob “ample time,” as one Christian clergyman put it, to riot. Seven Christian homes were also burned.
The second case goes back to July 2013, when General Sisi ousted then President Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, following massive popular demonstrations against Morsi on June 30. Then, Brotherhood sympathizers all around Egypt rioted, mostly by targeting Coptic Christian people, homes, and especially churches, of which almost one hundred were set ablaze or destroyed.
During these rampages, rioters randomly killed an elderly Coptic man, Iskander (Alexander) Toos, in Delga (also Minya governorate). After murdering him, they dragged his body on the ground to jeers and cries of “Allahu Akbar” (graphic video here). His corpse was then unceremoniously hurled into a garbage bin. For three days, his children were prevented from retrieving the body for burial. An unknown person eventually buried Alexander in an unmarked grave. His relentless murderers found the grave, exhumed the mangled body, propped it up, and used it for target practice.
In both the case of the stripped Coptic woman and the case of the slaughtered Coptic man, the names and faces of the culprits and murderers are well known. Indeed, while the humiliated, elderly woman, and the family of the slain man were driven from their homes and continue to reside outside their villages for fear of “reprisals,” their persecutors still live and walk around there, freely and proudly. Among them is the local sheikh of Delga, who was seen participating in the slaughter of Mr. Toos.
It should be borne in mind that, even in Egypt, such criminal cases usually do not take three or six years to judge: except for those who managed to escape, Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers who targeted state property or officials in 2013 were arrested years back, tried, found guilty, and hundreds even sentenced to death.
So why has it taken six years—followed by a recusal that has now reset court proceedings to the beginning—to rule on the case of a Christian man whose Muslim murderers are known? Why has it taken three years—followed by a recusal that has now reset court proceedings to the beginning—to rule on the case of a Christian grandmother who was stripped completely naked, slapped, spat upon, and paraded in the streets?
Commenting on the recent recusal, Adel Guindy, past president of Coptic Solidarity and member of its board, said, “The judiciary system in Egypt, as well as the rest of the pillars of the state (often referred to as the “deep state”) have become impregnated with fundamentalist Islamic ideology, and are thus decidedly biased against Copts. The political leadership of the country takes no concrete corrective measures and, worse still, lets this ideology shape and dominate the society, through education and media.”
Another recent story from Egypt embodies these assertions. A Coptic woman was lured into leaving her husband, converting to Islam, and marrying a Muslim man. The local judge was only too happy to dissolve her former Christian marriage: according to Sharia, a Muslim woman can never be married to a non-Muslim man—hence her original marriage became null and void the moment she proclaimed the shahada. The only way her Coptic husband could make any legal claims to her or their marriage would be by his also converting to Islam.
Needless to say, the opposite situation—a Coptic Christian man merely dating a Muslim woman—prompts mass riots, killings, and burnings of Coptic churches, homes, and businesses, often as police stand by. In fact, that is the very reason the aforementioned Coptic grandmother was stripped naked and publicly humiliated: her son was accused of having a romantic relationship with a Muslim woman.
Last reported, the Muslim man and his newly converted-to-Islam Coptic wife were planning to move to her village, where its Muslim inhabitants were preparing adequately provocative festivities to celebrate the triumph of Islam—with full approval from local police and authorities. The humiliated ex-husband and his family were facing up to the situation which could flare-up.
At any rate, the recent recusal—the ongoing stalling—of two cases where Copts were victimized makes clear that Egypt’s Christian minorities are not just suffering from Islamists and criminals but from the entire system, a system which allows much impunity for those who would target Christians.
After all, a justice that moves as slowly as a turtle—and then suddenly resets the process to square one—is just another form of injustice.