Christian Family Evicted From Egyptian Town After Sex Video Surfaces

Nabil Gergis, a Coptic Christian, lived for
nearly two decades in the Egyptian town of Amriya, raising his children
and managing a modest business. Those ties couldn’t protect him after a
sex video purportedly showing his brother with a Muslim woman began to

Angry residents in the
conservative, Muslim-majority town held protests and set fire to the
Gergis family businesses. None of the attackers was prosecuted. Instead,
a committee of tribal elders, local lawmakers and security officials
ordered the 11 members of the Gergis family – the brother, Nabil and
others – to leave town.

The story of Amriya
demonstrates one of the reasons Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority and
even some in the Muslim majority feel the situation is precarious,
particularly since the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak a year
ago. The rule of law, they and human rights groups say, is being
eclipsed by such “reconciliation councils,” trying to fill the security
vacuum left by Mubarak’s fall.

“There is no
law that would have found me responsible for anything, and under the law
I would have never been kicked out of my home,” said Nabil Gergis. He
said he, his wife and their two children do not know who to turn to
protect their rights and that he feels the government has turned its
back on them.

Egypt’s Copts are mourning Pope
Shenouda II, who led the Church for 40 years and died on Saturday. “Baba
Shenouda,” as he was called, was seen by many in the community as their
biggest protector in a country where Christians make up about 10
percent of a population of 85 million.

approach was deeply conservative. He was a close ally of Mubarak during
the former president’s 29-year rule and used his influence behind the
scenes to try to ensure some protections for Christians. But he largely
resisted any public protests or pressure. His critics among the Coptic
community say that left Christians’ rights dependent on personal
relations rather than enforced by law.

meetings were not unusual under Mubarak’s regime. Muslim-Christian
violence broke out occasionally in towns of the south, sometimes in
local disputes that turned sectarian. Rather than prosecuting those
responsible, local leaders and security officials would often insist on
negotiated solutions to keep the peace – or, critics say, because they
were reluctant to confront Muslims involved in the incidents.

Amriya case was unique because the punishment was so extensive. The
town is comprised of scattered villages with some 500,000 residents,
about 15 percent of them are Christian.

incident erupted in late January, when the explicit video allegedly
showing Nabil Gergis’ brother with a Muslim woman circulated on
residents’ cell phones. The brother, who is married, has denied any

Any sex outside of marriage is a
lightning rod for controversy in the Muslim world, where a woman’s
chastity is vociferously protected by her family. That a Christian man
might have an affair with a Muslim woman only further fanned the flames.

rumors sparked widespread protests by Amriya residents, who are mostly
tribal and deeply traditional. Angry residents set fire to three stores
owned by the Gergis’ family, which were under their homes. Some Muslim
residents tried to help, but were outnumbered by the ultraconservative

Police showed up hours later and instead of investigating the attack called in the brother for questioning, Gergis said.

tempers still high, local officials and tribal leaders held a series of
meetings and decided to order the expulsion of the entire Gergis
family. A Muslim family who had fired shots in the air during the
protest to protect their property were initially told they must leave
too, but were later allowed to return.

police argued that they could not guarantee the Gergis family’s safety
in the face of angry protesters, according to security officials and the
Gergis family. Last week, with the family gone, their homes were robbed
of cash and other belongings they had to leave behind, Gergis said.

Egyptian rights group that looked into the case, the Egyptian
Initiative for Personal Rights, criticized the expulsion, saying the
victims were forced to accept “the outcomes of illegal reconciliation
processes” and to abandon their rights.

Ibrahim, a researcher with the group, warns that the breakdown of
security since Mubarak’s fall could lead to an even greater dependence
on such “reconciliation meetings.”

“When the
state’s authority is eroded, then the community turns to its own leaders
to solve the crisis,” he said. “The problem is that the outcomes are
not consistent. It also means that Christians or the side that is weaker
will be at a disadvantage, and so this affects all Egyptians.”

unreliability of the law has hurt Christians in other ways. One sore
point is the construction of churches, which requires permissions from
security officials and was rarely granted. In response, Christians often
built churches secretly, and in several instances in recent years
Muslim mobs attacked the construction. Again, perpetrators of such
attacks were almost never prosecuted.

Mubarak’s fall, there has been talk of a law putting construction of
mosques and churches under equal rules, but no law has been passed.

series of attacks over the last year has also stoked Christian fears. A
year ago, a Muslim-Christian love affair led a Muslim mob to torch a
church in the village of Soul, 18 miles (30 kilometers) south of Cairo.
Christians protesting the burning were attacked by a mob; 13 people died
and 140 injured.

In May, ultraconservative
followers of the Salafi trend of Islam burnt a church in the Cairo
working-class district of Imbaba and clashed with Christians, leaving 12
people dead. Many of the rioters believed that a Christian woman who
fell in love with a Muslim man had converted to Islam and was being held
prisoner by the church.

In October, a Cairo
protest led by Copts demanding greater rights was crushed by soldiers,
leaving 27 people, mostly Copts, dead.

Gergis family is now living with relatives in Alexandria. Nabil Gergis
said neither the police nor government officials have responded to his
pleas for help.

“The only thing that this
means is that police don’t want us in the country,” he said. “It’s a
feeling that I cannot describe. My children don’t have a home anymore.”