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 circulate.This is exactly what "equal rights" means in the Muslim world. While the governments will officially say they embrace human rights, in reality little is done to safeguard religious minorities. And it will only get worse with an Islamist government in Egypt.
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.
The 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.
The 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 affair.
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.
The 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 rioters.
Police showed up hours later and instead of investigating the attack called in the brother for questioning, Gergis said.
With 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.
Amriya 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.
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