On 20 May 2016 a violent mob shamefully stripped Soad Thabet, an elderly woman, of her clothes and paraded her through the streets of El Karm village in Egypt as a result of unsubstantiated allegations concerning her son having an affair with a Muslim woman. Since the attack, the woman in question has categorically denied the claims on national television, and as investigations continue, the armed forces, at the request of the Egyptian president, have begun to rebuild Christian homes torched during the attack.
Statement by His Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom
Days after having been stripped and dragged through the streets of her village in the most undignified and inhumane of ways, the gracious and forgiving response of Soad Thabet, an elderly mother and grandmother, is both courageous and inspiring.
The ethos of the Coptic Christian community in Egypt has always been one of forgiveness, as was particularly evident in its peaceful and reconciliatory response to the burning of over one hundred churches and places of ministry in August 2013, and following the brutal execution of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya last year. Having said that, there is currently a rejection of conventional ‘reconciliation meetings’ based on the fact that they have historically been used as a cosmetic short-term solution, without addressing root causes or preventing the recurrence of similar incidents. Despite an ongoing commitment to genuine reconciliation efforts, there is an immediate and pressing need for tangible solutions, as superficial measures that aim to pacify will by no means have a lasting effect, and can never lead to true reconciliation and social cohesion.
It is indeed shameful that such mob crimes can be perpetrated against innocent communities or individuals, of whatever faith or ethnicity, and especially as a result of slanderous and unsubstantiated allegations; and that an elderly woman could be so publicly and indecently humiliated. What is also unacceptable is the utter disinterest (at best) and/or complicit and criminal negligence (at worst) with which the local security services conducted themselves, and the Menia Governor’s initial denial that these crimes actually occurred.
In this light, President Sisi of Egypt has expressed a need for fair and transparent investigation, and amidst allegations that those apprehended for these crimes have been released on bail, the hope is that measures to safeguard every Egyptian citizen, irrespective of his or her chosen faith or belief, will indeed be effectively implemented.
As I commented last week, Egypt is at a formative stage of its contemporary history which requires a robust system of law and order that underpins an ethos of equal citizenship and accountability. Any such steps taken at the national level however are severely hampered and undermined by these recurring failures at the local level.
Our prayers are with all now tasked to carry out investigations and to bring healing and restoration to this community. Little can possibly be done to compensate the unprovoked injustice suffered by an innocent elderly mother in rural Egypt, but we continue to pray for peace and for the hearts and minds of perpetrators to be changed, paving the way for true reconciliation.