23. Armant on fire!

Article summary: 

Sectarian violence broke out in the Upper Egyptian village of Armant, Qinā governorate, after rumors spread that a group of three Coptic young men seduced a number of Muslim girls and filmed them in compromising positions. Arson attacks swept the village and eight Muslim teenagers were arrested for allegedly setting fire to three shops, three houses, and a car owned by Copts.

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Sectarian violence erupted in the Upper Egyptian village of Armant, Qinā governorate, following rumors that three Coptic young men seduced a number of Muslim girls and filmed them in compromising positions on their mobile phones. [see AWR, 2007, week 6, art. 26, 27]

Eight Muslims, whose ages range from 17 to 19, were arrested on charges of committing arson attacks on three shops, three houses, and a car owned by Copts.

A Muslim villager [Reviewer: No name mentioned] claimed that three young Copts, Ashraf Nayrūz, an owner of a photography shop, Rāmī Fānūs [Reviewer: The second name is spelled in many different ways, amongst which are Fānūs and Ṭānyūs], a jeweler, and F.A.G. [Reviewer: Only initials are given], a mobile phone trader, have seduced Muslim girls, offered them gold and gifts, and filmed them in compromising positions.

According to the villager, five Muslim girls were taken to an apartment in Luxor, where they were allegedly filmed having sex with a number of Christian young men. Rumors circulated that the so-called ’Christian group’ blackmailed the girls to convert to Christianity.

On Saturday, villagers awoke to the fire that gutted three shops, a photography shop, a jewelry shop, a shoe shop, and a grocery shop [Reviewer: The article actually specifies four shops]. Egyptian security forces instated a curfew on the village and arrested a number of Muslim young men for allegedly setting fire to the shops.

‘Alī Qazāmīl, the district attorney in the village, ordered the detention of the suspects for four days pending investigation. According to Muhammad Najīb al-Kushkī of Ṣawṭ al-Ummah of February 19, 2007, the detainees were deprived of their rights to meet with their lawyers, parents, journalists or human rights activists during interrogation. al-Kushkī explained that the village has tuned into a military barracks, where central security soldiers and officers from the state security and the Criminal Intelligence Division were deployed. al-Kushkī added that despite tight security, some villagers managed to set fire to three houses owned by Copts, but no casualties were reported.

Ṣawt al-Ummah interviewed a number of villagers, whose personal property was damaged during the attacks. Hānī William Shukr Allāh [Reviewer: A Christian name] said that of his pick-up truck was set alight and its engine was totally destroyed. "There were two other cars, owned by Muslims, and they were not touched. I am not engaged in any dispute with Muslims and I have no kinship ties with the young men who filmed the girls," Shukr Allāh added.

Muhārib ‘Āzir, whose grocery shop was burned during the riots, told Ṣawṭ al-Ummah that his relationship with his Muslim and Christian neighbors is an extremely good one. ‘Āzir added, "If we have one or two bad Christians in the village, this does not necessarily mean that all Christian in the village are bad."

Commenting on Muslim-Christian relations in the village, Michel Fu’ād Rizq Allāh, a teacher at the Armant Mechanical Industrial School, said that Muslims and Christians celebrate their feasts together and stand by each other in difficult times. He further stated that a few months ago, a Muslim woman neighbor [Reviewer: No name mentioned] sold her jewelry to lend him money so that he could pay off his debts to a number of traders. Rizq Allāh accused a number of Christian villagers, including a woman called Hālah [Reviewer: No second name mentioned], whom he said is an accountant in the Qinā governorate department, of collaborating with some expatriate Copts [Reviewer: No names mentioned]. According to Rizq Allāh, Hālah asked a number of Christian villagers to claim that they were being persecuted by Muslims. [Reviewer: No further details given about whether this woman was conducting a survey or merely collecting information]. Rizq Allāh stated, "But we were aware of what she was doing and did not give her the chance. We refused to become involved in the settling of old scores between expatriate Copts and the Egyptian government because we know that there are some people who want to use such a dispute for their own personal gains."

‘Abd al-Qādir Ḥamzah Husayn [Reviewer: A Muslim], head of the educational department in the village and the father of ‘Ammār and the fourth suspect in the arson attacks, said that Luxor state security did not take adequate measures to prevent the escalation of disputes. According to Husayn, the police were aware of all the incidents in which Muslim girls were allegedly seduced by Christian young men, but they turned a blind eye.He further claimed that the state security intelligence in Luxor had summoned the jeweler [Reviewer: Husayn is most likely referring to Rāmī Fānūs] in question and his friends, but did not take any action against them. This resulted in huge tensions between Muslims and Christians in the village.

Some Muslim villagers [Reviewer: No names mentioned] accused Major General Majdī Iskandar, the governor of Qinā, of igniting sectarian sedition in the village by siding with Christians against Muslims. They said that it was not a wise decision to appoint a Copt as a governor in Upper Egypt, which they said is plunging into an abyss of sectarian violence. Other Muslim villagers accused Coptic activist, Michael Munīr, of being behind the recent unrest in the village. Villagers said that a short time ago, H.A.A. [Reviewer: Only initials are given], a holder of a BA in history, was killed [Reviewer: No information given about who killed him] after he converted to Christianity. According to the villagers, H.A.A. traveled to a European country and renounced Islām after he was enticed with money and women. When he returned to Egypt, his family tried to convert him back to Islām, but he refused. H.A.A. was killed and buried in the cemetery and no police report was filed about the crime.

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