Once again Copts have been forced to leave their homes after Muslim mobs loot and set them ablaze, this time in the village of Dahshor, 20 miles south of Cairo. This incident began on Wednesday (July 25) with a singed shirt mistakenly scorched by a Coptic laundry presser who was preparing the garment. This commonplace slip-up spurred the fury of a three-day rampage headed by the enraged customer after finding his shirt ruined. When the business owner, who was also the presser of the laundry establishment, accidently burned a shirt belonging to a Muslim customer, a heated argument between the two men ensued over the damages. This soon escalated into a physical fight — after which the mad customer left the store.
The following afternoon, (Thursday, July 26) the angry customer returned, this time accompanied by a group of Muslim vigilantes (20 men) arriving at the laundry to punish the owner, but found the store closed. Resolved to take revenge upon the owner they continued to the laundryman’s nearby home where he perched on his rooftop ready with Molotov cocktails to defend himself and his family. As the inevitable fight broke out, an unfortunate passer-by, a young Muslim man in his 20s, unrelated to the scene, was accidentally struck by a fire bottle. He was transported to the hospital with serious injuries. The Egyptian state police in the town were present and stood silent. They did not intervene to enforce the law and keep order.
Unfortunately, it did not end here. The next morning (Friday, July 27), an irate mob of approximately 2,000 Muslim men from surrounding towns stormed into Dahshor to hunt down Copts, in particular the laundryman. Many stores along the way were looted and destroyed. The laundryman’s home was ransacked and then burned to the ground, as well as other Coptic homes.
During this time, the father of the hospitalized man injured by the fire bottle the day before made death threats to Copts saying he would retaliate if his son died. As news began to spread of the young man’s deteriorating health in hospital, Copts took the advice of both the police and the priest to flee the town. Five hundred Copts fled their homes. There residences were then looted by the mob. Father Takla was quoted as saying that law enforcement (Egyptian state police) demanded Copts leave the town in order to avoid escalation of violence certain to occur.
Meanwhile part of the mob turned their rage upon the Saint George Church, a few hundred meters away, to pillage and burn it at the instigation and direction of a mosque’s Imam. Sources say the church doors were locked and no one was attacked. There are conflicting reports as to whom, if any, defended the church, but the church is still standing and Saint George priest, Father Takla, removed himself to a remote location and remains safe.
It is clear from all reports that the state police did not enforce the laws to preserve order during this rampage. As under the Mubarak regime and the military transitional council after Mubarak’s removal headed by Field Marshal Tantawi, President Morsi’s state police gave tacit approval of the aggression taking place. On Tuesday (July 31), the young Muslim man injured by the fire bottle during the first attack upon the Copt business owner’s home, died in the military hospital in Cairo. At least four Copts were reported injured and taken to Cairo and Giza hospitals.
Please take note of the separate hospitals to which the injured parties were taken. It is no accident that the Muslim was driven to the military hospital which is considered to be the best facility and the Copts anywhere but the military hospital. This subtlety should not be overlooked in assessing Egypt’s ingrained prejudice against the non-Muslim population.
Eyewitness accounts of this story as reported in the local and national Arabic press throughout Egypt brought to light the facts of this horrible episode. Twenty to thirty newspaper reports were used to gather the events of this story as well as interviews from Dahshor residents on Egyptian talk radio.
Forced evacuations from small towns by Copts under duress of similar conditions have been ongoing in Egypt for many years and more so after the January 25, 2011 uprising. During the transitional military government we witnessed practically identical occurrences in the towns of Etfeh (March 4, 2011), Imbaba (March 8, 2011), Marinab (September 30, 2011), and Al Ameria (January 27, 2011).
The Dahshor incident proves, along with others like it in recent years, that violence will continue to prevail if the new government under President Morsi does not rebuild the country’s institutions in view of equality under the law for all Egypt’s citizens. Preferential treatment for Muslim citizens and promotion of one religion above all others, defining the country’s law with the direct influence of the Muslim religious beliefs, will serve to embolden separatism and further the populace to live in fear of both street violence and the state police.
The hope and change we have for Egypt now resides in the party of freedom and justice, but so far there is an astounding resemblance to past dictatorships with perhaps even greater intention to move the country toward Islamic law. But ordinary Egyptians do not want this law, and this is proven in the generosity of spirit often displayed between Egyptian neighbors which transcends the divisive dictates of government authorities and the institutionalized bias advancing separatism and spreading terror.
At least one such report came from the Dahshor incident. A Muslim woman handed a Christian man her burka and hijab to shield his identity in order to escape from the mob. In this profoundly touching act of charity perhaps she saw in his plight their common subjection to tyranny. The will to be free has no boundaries.