Aug 4, 2012 No Comments ›› Pat Dollard
Excerpted from THE BLAZE: — When the angry mob was rampaging through town, storming her home and those of other Christians, the 70-year-old woman hid in her cow pen, pushing a rock against the door. There she cowered for hours, at one point passing out from tear gas being fired by police that seeped in.
When Sameeha Wehba emerged just before dawn, she found she was the only Christian left in this small Egyptian village just south of Cairo, the location of some of the country’s earliest pyramids.
Dahshour’s entire Christian community – as many as 100 families some estimate – fled to nearby towns in the violence earlier this week. The flock’s priest, cloaked in a white sheet to hide him, was taken out in a police van. At least 16 homes and properties of Christians were pillaged and some torched and a church damaged.
The violence was ultimately rooted in a dispute over a badly ironed shirt that escalated into a fight in which a Muslim was burned to death, sparking the rampage by angry Muslims.
“It was a devil’s moment,” Wehba said Thursday at the home of her Muslim neighbors, who have taken her in. “Whoever caused this was the devil’s son.”
The unprecedented exodus underscores how sectarian divisions are bubbling over in the wake of the revolution, in a country where 10 percent of the population is Christian. Police forces have been weakened and often don’t carry out their duties. Islamists have been emboldened, and in an atmosphere of lawlessness, Muslims and Christians alike seemingly feel freer in unleashing prejudices that were kept in check in the past.
Most notably in Dahshour, police did nothing as tensions spiraled following the burning of the Muslim man late last month.
“What is grave this time is that violence was not only expected but preventable, and security forces failed to prevent it even though they had prior knowledge,” said Hossam Bahgat, head of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, which monitors sectarian violence.
In the past, incidents of sectarian violence in Egyptian towns often took a routine course. A local spat between a Muslim and Christian would escalate, and if a death occurred, violence would be sparked. Police would often see a bit of unrest as a way to let off steam but then negotiate a compromise solution over the death. Officials would deny any sectarian nature to the conflict. Rage was also largely confined to the family of the killer, but now, the AP reports, angry Muslims are considering the entire Christian community as subject to retaliation.
“Collective retribution is the most dangerous and most likely (form of violence) to spread over time … beyond the site of violence,” Bahgat said.Egypt’s new president, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, didn’t comment on the violence for several days. On Friday, he appealed to Dahshour’s Christians to return home, promising justice against perpetrators of the violence.
“This was an individual incident and its origin is not about Muslims and Christians, and it happens every day. It was blown out of proportion,” he said.
Many in the village say the Christians should not be allowed to return until the Christian laundry worker who set fire to the Muslim is killed. Other residents take an even harder line and say they shouldn’t be let back at all.
The sentiments were on display even in the neighboring Muslim family that took in Wehba to protect her in case of further reprisals.
Um Mohammed, the 65-year old matron of the household whose son was a friend of the slain man, says Christians can come back, but only if justice is served against the killer. “He burned my heart. He must also be burned. It is retribution,” she said.
“No Christian will return to this village again!” someone shouted from behind Umm Mohammed. It came from a little girl wearing a strict version of the Islamic headscarf, covering her head and much of her torso. The girl – apparently the child of a neighbor – was quickly shushed and hustled out of the room by the family.
“We didn’t kick them out for nothing,” said Ali el-Gizawy, a 47-year old government employee. “They betrayed our trust, and they will not be allowed to return.”