ALEXANDRIA/CAIRO: The Human Rights Committee of the People’s Assembly rejected, in an emergency meeting Sunday night, the forced eviction of eight Coptic families from their homes in Alexandria, stressing the importance of combating sectarian tension.
The PA had commissioned the committee to hold the meeting at the request of a number of MPs to investigate the incident in which the families in Sharbat village in Amreya, Alexandria, were forced the leave by some community leaders. A committee was also set up to sell their property.
The eviction decision, which was rejected by the Melli Council of the Orthodox Church in Alexandria and rights groups, was made through customary law sessions attended by the constituency’s MPs, affiliated with the Salafi Al-Nour Party, and the village elders.
"At the meeting it was decided that the eight families will be evicted and their property sold. The Coptic families’ representatives couldn’t oppose the decision because they were morally oppressed," said MP Emad Gad, who claimed he was earlier denied an interpellation request about the events in parliament.
He said that they were told that their safety cannot be guaranteed if they decide to stay.
Magdy Saber, member of the Maspero Youth Union, said that the Copts’ representatives were forced to agree on the eviction because they were persuaded that this was the only way to stop the bloodshed.
Hundreds of the village’s Muslim residents had attacked on Jan. 27 the home and shops of a Coptic tailor, Morad Girgis, and property belonging to his family, following rumors that he had an affair with a Muslim woman.
Fearing for his life, Girgis handed himself over to police but the homes and shops of relatives were also later set on fire.
Activist Ramy Kamel claimed that Girgis was being blackmailed by a Muslim barber who accused the former of having taken pictures of Muslim girls in the fitting room of his workshop. Kamel accused the barber of spreading the rumor about the affair.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) underlined in a statement the need for a judicial inquiry and an urgent and independent parliamentary investigation into all the committed crimes and to punish the perpetrators.
"The Human Rights Committee would issue recommendations that should be adopted by the PA and raised to the government to apply," Gad said, pointing out that the expected recommendations are to stop the forced displacement and to hold the perpetrators accountable.
He claimed that when he tried to discuss the issue in parliament in an urgent statement, it was initially rejected by PA Speaker Saad El-Katatny, before agreeing to call on the Human Rights Committee to hold an urgent meeting to discuss it Sunday.
"I believe that when he got more details about the case and when it started to be covered in the media following the march that headed to parliament, he started to respond positively to avoid embarrassment in the PA," Gad said.
El-Katatny said Monday the issue would be probed by the committee rather than discussed in the general session, which is broadcast live, in order not to fuel sectarian tension.
A number of Coptic movements, including theMaspero Youth Union, organized Sunday a march to parliament to denounce the forced evictions.
Organizers of the march then formed a delegation to meet some MPs, including Al-Nour’s MP in Amreya Sheirf El-Hawary, Mostafa Al-Naggar and Ihab Ramzy among others.
The meeting that lasted four hours, according to representatives of the Union, concluded that the entire file would be referred to the Human Rights Committee.
"We are optimistic about the decisions that will be taken by the committee as we were promised by MPs that its members will sit with representatives of the families that took the eviction decision and that the problem will be solved by law not by customary law sessions as before," Saber said.
The Church’s Melli Council said the eviction decision was nothing but succumbing to the will of the aggressors at the expense of the victims. It said the eviction was a dangerous precedent where citizens are targeted because of their religious identity in violation of their constitutional rights.
The council condemned the committee, “which gave itself judicial authority”, for making a judgment to evict families while promising to find the aggressors later on.
Gad said that the law should be applied because customary law often results in lack of punishment for the culprits.
EIPR condemned the failure of the police and army forces to protect the homes and property of the Copts in the village that were collectively burned and looted.
The statement stressed that the law does not permit reconciliation in the deliberate crime of arson. EIPR said the officials at the province who sponsored the agreement were clearly in violation of the law which requires a criminal investigation.
It added that the investigation should be extended to include the role of security forces that were present at the crime scene as it happened but did not provide protection for the victims.
"Shame on executive and legislation officials for providing legal cover for criminal offenses in an alleged reconciliation that ended up punishing the victims and acquitting the perpetrators," said Ishaq Ibrahim, a researcher with the program of freedom of religion and belief at EIPR. "If the judicial authority and the parliament don’t interfere to end this injustice and restore respect for the sovereignty of law they will be partners in the same crime". –Additional reporting by Abdel-Rahman Youssef in Alexandria.