In the past two articles, I tried to explain to our readers what happened in â€œEl-Koshehâ€, in 1998, when two copts were murdered, and how the Egyptian law enforcement authorities completely mishandled the matter, causing new, and very intense tensions between Copts and Muslims.
During the sixteen months which followed those murders, the situation became like a time bomb waiting to explode. The Christians, who are simple and kind people, found themselves confronted with the sad reality that there is no law or justice in the Land. Copts finally realized that they are living in their homeland, which was not really their real home; they felt that they can neither trust their own law enforcement system and courts, nor their government. Meanwhile, the government began to look at them and the Copts in general, as enemies of the State, since they exposed the reality and their torture to the outside world.
The law enforcement authorities along with the Egyptian government handled the situation without a clear, precise plan to resolve it definitively, as is customary in the third millennium. Instead they went about it haphazardly.
Father Gabriel Abdel Messiah, priest of the Angel Michael’s Church of “El-Kosheh” commented: "the relationship between some Copts and some Muslims become so strained, and sensitive due to the police’s mishandling of the problem. I noticed a lot of feelings of disappointment among Copts, and an increase in litigation, which I was not custom to. On various occasion I interfered personally, together with some Muslim elders and other priests, in order to resolve certain problems occurring between both parties".
On Wednesday, December 29th, 1999, as told by Mr. Micheal Bissada (lawyer), a Muslim man called "Faiz Awaad Hassanen" who earned his living as a street vendor of fruits and vegetable, approached a textile store owned by a Copt called "Rashed Fahmy Mansur". Faiz asked the store owner if he could buy fabrics for himself and his family, and settle the account through monthly payments, but the store owner refused to sell his merchandise under those conditions. They both had an argument which ended by Faiz saying "Ok, stranger".
The store owner took this statement as a threat, and replied "you cannot do anything". The word ‘stranger’ is usually used by Muslims in Egypt when addressing Copts, meaning foreigner. So the customer left the store without buying, but left a threat to the owner.
Two days later, on Friday December 31st, 1999, around 4:00PM, the former customer along with his two brothers "Fawzi" and "Abdel Nasser" entered the textile store, assaulted the owner and his son "Aymen", then destroyed his store.
People gathered at the scene, some of them tried to calm the store owner, who was adamant to report the attack to the local police, which was only 500 meters (300 yards) away. As they approached the police station, the police officer was standing outside, trying to figure out what was happening; the three attackers followed, promising them another visit.
As Mr. Rashed was reporting the facts to chief "Kalid AbdelHamid", the officer "Ahmed AbdRaboh", informed his superior what he witnessed, how the attackers tried to assault the store owner and his son, once more near the police station, and how he has set them apart. A few important things have to be emphasized here:–
–The Police station was 500 meters away from the store.
– The attackers followed the owner to the station and tried to assault him once more in front of the policeman.
– The police did not make any arrests.
There was one important fact that no one had paid any attention to at the time, but which was mentioned in one of the Egyptian newspapers called "Al Ahaly". In its issue dated January 12th, 2000, it was reported that about 150 non-residents had arrived to “El-Kosheh” with machine guns and other war weaponry, started several fires, destroyed homes and stores owned by Copts.
The strange thing about it was that the 150 people went about achieving their goal, prior to any police showing up at the scene, and disappeared without leaving a trace. Only one thing became clear that someone was spreading false rumors in the surrounding towns, that Copts attacked Muslims during prayers inside an “El-Kosheh” Mosque. An eyewitness testimony, reported by "Al Ahaly" newspaper, said that some police officers destroyed various Muslims’ stalls for no reason, while various armed non-residents blocked the five gates to the town, in order to obstruct or delay the arrival of reinforcement police forces. Witnesses also reported that certain groups attacked and killed police officers, other groups stopped any vehicles from entering or leaving the town, while others attacked the Copts and their property. In addition to those, another group attacked the five Churches in town.
The "Al Gamhoria" newspaper reported in its issue published on January 5th, 2000, that one of the local political leaders informed them that he witnessed war weaponry, guns and machine guns fired in the skies over “El- Kosheh”, and that police agents could not enter the town for three days. The events described above occurred in a street called "Port Said" where Copts and Muslims gathered after the attack on the textile store.
The Chief of Police arrived to the scene, and gathered information from the assaulted Copts.
The Copts complained to him about the incident and pleaded for his intervention, but he refused any police action at the time. Meanwhile, during this conversation, the people heard guns being fired and three Copts were injured. Once again Egyptian law enforcement neglected to enforce the law, but overall to protect the citizens. The only statement heard from those officers was: "we saw everything, you may go home now". No arrests were made. The Copts could not comprehend the way the police officers and the local government were acting.
A few years before, Coptic business owners had requested the removal of illegal barns placed next to their stores by non authorized businesses. In spite of a court ruling for the removal of those barns, the Governor of “Sohag” stopped the court order, to accommodate a recommendation of a member of parliament. On their way home, the Copts destroyed some of those illegal barns..
The rest of the first day to be continued…