The Christian community in Egypt’s Qaryat Al Bayda village – who were attacked on 17 June by a 1,200-plus mob of Muslims – fear they may be pressurised into “reconciliation meetings”. Such meetings generally end with the Christian victims surrendering more of their rights while their attackers escape without punishment.
“Reconciliation” meetings are often used in Egypt, especially in rural areas, as an alternative to judicial procedures, after Muslims have attacked Christians or Christian-owned property. Christians are extremely wary of such meetings, and would much prefer a proper legal process. The way in which the issues are solved at such meetings is usually to insist that the Christian victims submit and yield up some of their rights in order to pacify their attackers. As a weak and powerless minority the Christians dare not reject the decisions, for fear of further violence against them.
There is concern that the attack in Qaryat Al Bayda, which left at least two Christians injured and several Christian homes and buildings vandalised, will follow a similar path. The attack followed a rumour that a Christian was planning to turn a house into a church for worship meetings.
A recent book by Nabil Abdel-Fattah of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies examines the whole issue of “reconciliation” meetings and the injustice suffered by Copts (Egyptian Christians) in such processes. In a review ofReconciliation Sessions and Copts: Where the Culprit Emerges Triumphant and the Victim Crushed, published in Watani International (1 June 2016), Marina Ihab Yacoub writes:
“The farcical scenario of reconciliation sessions has thus without fail dominated the scene where attacks against Copts are concerned, even though these sessions proved to be nothing but a severe retreat of civil rights. Politically speaking, the authorities aim – through the reconciliation sessions – to secure a rosy façade of the ‘time-honoured amicable relationships between Muslims and Copts, implying that they live happily ever after. The heartbreaking outcome, however, is that the only winners in these sessions are the trouble mongers and fanatics who induce the attacks in the first place and who more often than not escape punishment and emerge victorious. The Coptic victims are left to lick their wounds. “
In a statement released on 12 February 2012, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) also highlighted the illegality of these reconciliation sessions that punish the victims and leave the criminals unpunished. This was further expressed by Archbishop Makarius of Minya last month, when he told media that participating in reconciliation sessions is meaningless unless the law has first been applied.
In the recent incident at Qaryat Al Bayda, the victims have been accused by the police alongside the crime’s perpetrators. Naeem Aziz, whose house was attacked by the Muslim crowd, said that the police, in their report to the prosecution, have accused Christians as well as Muslims of “rioting”. He says, “We Christians have been attacked, our homes plundered and burned, the community centre we used for worship has been closed, two families evicted of their homes and left homeless, and two men injured, and now we are wanted by the police for rioting.”
Naeem Aziz fears that the charge of “rioting” will now be used to pressurise Christians into agreeing to reconciliation sessions which will again see the perpetrators go unpunished. He adds, “They are sending us a very clear message that the only way to escape being detained and prosecuted is to give up all our legal rights and reconcile with those who attacked us. All this while the offenders run free. What ‘justice’ is this?”