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Egypt: The expulsion of Coptic families and the role of state and society

The ongoing expulsion of Coptic families from their villages as part of customary reconciliation agreements implies that the state’s power iis undermined before social pressure and hardline religious currents.

Ziad Bahaa-Eldin , Thursday 4 Jun 2015
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Yet again news comes of Coptic families expelled from their villages, this time in Beni Soueif and Minya, part of the terms of customary reconciliation agreements reached in meetings of local residents, clerics, and state representatives. 

The locals and clerics who take part in these sessions believe they’re doing the right thing because it protects families and villages in Upper Egypt by preventing a small-scale dispute from degenerating into a violent sectarian conflict. So they choose flawed solutions to ward off what they see as the greater evil. That’s why I don’t blame those who in fraught circumstances seek to defuse sectarian tension and shut down the strife before it begins. The state, however, is something else. State institutions should be censured for sanctioning the outcome of a customary reconciliation that compels a family to leave its village because one of its members may have done something shameful, provocative, or illegal. 

Expulsion from one’s village is not a penalty recognized by law. In fact, the Constitution considers it a crime so serious that it is not subject to a statute of limitations. Banishing an entire family because one of its members may have infringed social or moral codes or even committed a crime is also a flagrant violation of the constitutional principle of personal criminal liability. 

Expulsion is collective punishment levied on people who did nothing wrong, assuming that an actual crime was even committed. The reality is that most of these incidents begin with no more than rumors, innuendo, or a foolish indiscretion, which religious zealots exploit to inflame strife and settle old accounts. But either way, the state should not participate in, sanction, recognize, or implement any decision to expel any citizen from his hometown. Doing so is tacit recognition that the principle of citizenship is meaningless and that the state’s authority to protect its citizens is powerless before social pressure and hardline religious currents.

These evictions are nothing new in Upper Egypt, although they have increased since the revolution due to the security vacuum, the spread of weapons, and the rise of religious extremists who feel empowered to enjoin the good and forbid the evil. The state often yields to reconciliation deals involving evictions to avoid confrontations, though in rare instances it has implemented the law, brought offenders from both sides to justice, and protected those who are not directly involved in the dispute.

Currently, few Christian Egyptians doubt that the state and its institutions stand against the return of religious rule, or question the state’s zeal to protect the rights of Copts and their place in society. This was symbolized by the president’s greatly appreciated visit and speech at the St. Mark’s Cathedral in Abbasiya during the last Christmas mass. But prevailing media and official discourse views any criticism of the state as an attempt to undermine and destabilise the regime, support the Brotherhood, or weaken popular support for the president and the government. 

As a result, any talk of the failure to uphold citizenship or to protect Christians is viewed with apprehension - like talk of the constitution, justice, and liberties - and liable to draw accusations of sowing discord or breaking with the national consensus. Sadly, those who pay the higher price of this silence are poor residents of villages located far from the centers of government, power or influence. 

Sectarian tension exists and can flare up at any moment, fed by existing economic and cultural conditions. The gap between Muslims and Christians is real and has been fostered by decades of suspicion, superstition, and the conflict over limited resources. But the problem cannot be dealt with by remaining silent about violations or by relying on state agencies alone to manage the issue using the same means that created the problem in the first place.

Society must confront the issue. Laws protecting equality and prohibiting discrimination must be issued, and the state must allow civil society to play its role in raising awareness, building bridges of trust, and creating early-warning systems that can monitor imminent sectarian conflict, address the root causes, and deal with its consequences.

Ziad Bahaa-Eldin holds a PhD in financial law from the London School of Economics. He is a former deputy prime minister, former chairman of the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority and former chairman of the General Authority for Investments.

This article was published in Arabic in El-Shorouq newspaper on Tuesday 2 June.

 

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6



Farhan
07-06-2015 07:13pm
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1125+
I totally agree with author, If any individual does any crime, then he alone should stand trial not others
They are doing exactly same thing what anti-Muslim Nazis generally do. In CAR Muslim population is completely cleansed because Muslim supported coup, In Myanmar they are cleansing Muslim population because 3 Muslims did a crime, In West they call all Muslim terrorists because few Muslims have done terrorist acts, In Egypt they kill, murder and harass all brotherhood members because few might have done some bad things. This is nothing but Nazism.
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5



Ali
07-06-2015 03:29pm
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104+
Religious Illiteracy
Traditional illiteracy is about 40% in Egypt, what is more dangerous is religious illiteracy, it’s about 90%. Most Muslims know by heart selective verses of Koran taught to them by more religious illiterate Imams, which is the route of all evil in religious freedom and respect of Christian and Jewish minorities in Egypt and the region. One of the most dangerous verses is translated as “you’re not accepted by God if you are not Muslim” ومن يبتغ غير الإســلام دينا فلن يقبل منه 1400 years ago it was meant for the pagans of old Saudi who refused to accept the Prophet and Islam, however due to religious illiteracy it is used now a days as the corner stone of many Muslim communities in the Mid-East to belittle and attach other faith groups. The Azhar should address these religious illiteracies and help heal the religious divide in Egypt, rather than attacking scholars who are trying to do so!
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4



SAWSAN MOSTAFA ALI
07-06-2015 11:54am
42-
102+
My point of view
1- The truth is a christian citizen working in Jordan published statements against Prophet Muhammad. So fearing any revenge against his family, they told them to go toa another village which means it is an individual case. 2- I personally prefer that this citizen who wrote what he wrote is to go under trial with the accusation of (Contempt of Islam). 3- Either we agree or not, a customary rule is applied in some parts in Egypt like Sinai and Matrouh and has the power of law or may be even more. 4- I agree on anything ( for the time being ) that can stop any kind of conflict that could lead to civil war. 5- This article is directed to abroad and not to the internal just to enlarge and exaggerate an individual act.
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3



reem
05-06-2015 06:33pm
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2+
Bright slogans
How to confront the issue? You didn't provide a practical solution. The root cause in my view is that those youth were grown up with bad and corrupted principles based on hatred & malice. You need time to raise a new generation that is free from these psycological defects. What religious men do now is the best choice as a short term solution to avoid sliding into a chaos
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prof dr m s s el namaki
05-06-2015 01:17pm
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Solve the rootcause first!!
The expulsion is a medieval practice. It is a product of ignorance , poverty, helplessness and frustration. There is, in my view, no short term solution . Solve the problem of massive illiteracy and the closely associated dogma, first!!!
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Sam Enslow
04-06-2015 04:18pm
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20+
Law and Clerics
If I assault someone or threaten someone, the law concerning those crimes should be enforced. It should make no difference if the one assaulted or assaulting is Muslim or Christian. If a cleric is inciting hatred and violence, he should be arrested for that crime regardless of his faith. Egypt's clerics also have a responsibility to fight sectarian hatreds at the local level and be seen by the villagers they serve doing so. Both religions say they represent Peace. Let them work for Peace and calm these situations before they get out of hand. This hatred must be ended or it will tear Egypt apart. Both 'the Law' and 'the Clergy' must do their part.
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