Muslims burn houses and strip Christian woman naked in Egypt; President al-Sisi condemns attacks and orders repair of buildings at state expense

A crowd of around 300 Egyptian Muslims attacked, ransacked and set on fire the homes of seven Christian families near Abu Qurqas, Minya province, on 20 May. A Christian grandmother was dragged from her home, stripped of her clothes by the mob and made to walk naked in the streets while they chanted “Allahu Akbar [God is great].””They burnt the house and went in and dragged me out, threw me in front of the house and ripped my clothes,” Souad Thabet (aged 70) afterwards recalled. “I was just as my mother gave birth to me and was screaming and crying.” A local Muslim family took her in, gave her clothes and hid her until her Christian next-door-neighbours came to take her home.

The incident was provoked by rumours that Souad Thabet’s son had been romantically involved with a Muslim woman, but she denies that this happened.

Egypt’s President al-Sisi later released a statement calling the attacks “unacceptable” and said none of those responsible will “escape without justice”. He also ordered the Egyptian military to repair the homes within a month and at no cost to the owners. The police have so far arrested 14 people suspected to have been involved with the attack.

Local Muslim religious leaders have proposed inter-faith reconciliation meetings, ostensibly aimed at defusing tensions. This is a common response after Egyptian Muslims have attacked Christians in rural areas, and means that the matter is settled without involving the legal system. The general pattern of the “reconciliation” is that the Christian victims are required to make concessions to the Muslim attackers, who are then allowed to go unpunished. This is of course thoroughly unsatisfactory for the Christians, but they are threatened that it will be worse for them if they do not cooperate. Egyptian Christians are so outraged by this public humiliation of an elderly Christian woman that a local church leader has said that justice must be done before any reconciliation meeting can take place. “The true perpetrators must be arrested, punished for their crimes to set an example for others,” he said.

In Egypt, in accordance with sharia law, a Christian man cannot marry a Muslim woman, but a Muslim man can marry a Christian woman. The concept behind this is that the husband’s faith will be the faith followed by the whole of his family.

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