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Cablegate: More Sectarian Tensions in Upper Egypt

VZCZCXYZ0002
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHEG #1193/01 1621346
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 101346Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9517
INFO RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS CAIRO 001193

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

NSC FOR PASCUAL, DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/ELA AND DRL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SOCI PHUM KIRF EG
SUBJECT: MORE SECTARIAN TENSIONS IN UPPER EGYPT

REF: CAIRO 1111

Sensitive but unclassified. Not for internet distribution.

1. (SBU) Summary: The killing of a young Copt on June 6
sparked a demonstration of a few hundred Christians in the
town of Dafesh, which lies 140 kilometers from the site of
last week's altercations between Copts and Muslims over the
Abu Sana monastery (reftel). Church sources have been quick
to downplay the June 6 murder as being a criminal rather than
sectarian incident, both publicly and in private comments to
us. In the aftermath of a violent May 31 land dispute
involving the Abu Fana Monastery and Muslim villagers,
tensions remain high, and two monastery workers were
allegedly hospitalized in a brief June 8 altercation near the
monastery. The Egyptian government has been keen to decrease
tensions, with the provincial governor pledging to Coptic
Pope Shenouda III that all stolen items would be returned to
the monastery, and the walls built "soon." We are in touch
with the church and the GOE about these events. It appears
that the church leadership and the GOE are determined to play
down these events, and are taking precautionary steps to
defuse the situation. End summary.

-----------------------
COPT MURDERED IN DAFESH
-----------------------

2. (SBU) On June 6, police reportedly used tear gas to
disperse Coptic demonstrators protesting against the murder
of a young Copt, 22-year old Milad Farah Ibrahim, allegedly
by his Muslim neighbor, Khamis Eid Abdel Hamid. Church
officials have told us that Hamid stabbed Ibrahim to death
after becoming angered by Ibrahim's reported "peeping Tom"
behavior on him and his wife. That evening, angry
demonstrators reportedly gathered before the village church,
chanting anti-Muslim slogans and calling for retribution.
After several hours of the demonstration, police broke it up
the morning of June 7, using tear gas. Between 14-20 Coptic
protesters were reportedly arrested during the demonstration,
on charges of resisting the authorities or possessing
unlicensed weapons. Coptic church contacts expect all the
detainees to be released shortly, once tensions have cooled.

3. (SBU) Church sources have been quick to downplay the June
6 murder as not being a sectarian incident, both publicly and
in private comments to us. The pastor of the Dafesh church
told reporters that the death was "a criminal incident."
Coptic church contacts report that Bishop Bafnatious of the

Samalout Diocesce that includes Dafesh, has stressed that
Ibrahim had a "bad reputation" and that his murder is "a
criminal case only."

----------------------------------
FOLLOW-UP TO LAST WEEK'S INCIDENTS
----------------------------------

4. (U) In a violent May 31 land dispute surrounding the Abu
Fana Monastery in Minia governorate, one Muslim villager was
killed and four Copts wounded after Muslim villagers tried to
halt construction on a monastery wall blocking access to
agricultural land claimed by the villagers (reftel). On June
4, subsequent local church-sponsored celebrations of the
Virgin Mary moulid passed without incident. However, on the
evening of June 8, there was allegedly an attack on some
Copts near to the monastery. Two monastery workers were
reported hospitalized hospitalized. Several Copts and Muslims
from the area surrounding the monastery have reportedly been
detained, for damaging property and possession of unlicensed
weapons.

5. (U) In an unusual step, Coptic Pope Shenouda III called
into the popular satellite TV talk show Al Bayt Baytek ("The
House is Yours") on June 4 to discuss the Abu Fana incident.
This was notable because the Pope rarely comments publicly on
ongoing sectarian issues. He called the Abu Fana incident an
"offense" to both Muslims and Christians, as it indicated an
"absence of security." He rejected the idea of a
"reconciliation session" between the Muslims and Christians
involved in the dispute, noting that such a session had been
held in 2006 after a previous incident, but that it was
unsuccessful, as no resolution had been reached. The Pope
called for building the monastery walls under military
supervision, and for the return of items stolen from the
monastery, which he said were allegedly totaled a loss of 1
million Egyptian pounds (roughly USD 188,000). The Governor
of Minia, Ahmed Dia Eddin, on the same TV show assured the
Pope that the stolen items would be returned to the
monastery, and the walls of the monastery built "soon." Eddin
also visited the two monks in the hospital who were wounded
in the attack, one who was shot in the arm, and one who was
shot in the leg. Contrary to some reports on the internet,
church officials have confirmed to us that neither victim has
had any limbs amputated.

6. (U) On June 7, the Defense and National Security committee
of the People's Assembly held a hearing focused on the May 28
attack on a Cairo jewelry shop in which the store's Coptic
owner and three employees were killed (reftel). During the
hearing, First Assistant Interior Minister for General
Security Major-General Adli Fayid told parliamentarians that
"sectarian strife exists only on the screens of satellite TV
channels." He alleged that the media had exaggerated reports
of the Cairo killing, which he labeled as "completely
criminal, with nothing to do with religion." Fayid noted
that in 2007, there were 57 jewelry shop robberies
nationwide; 34 of the shops belonged to Muslims, and 23 were
owned by Copts. He stressed that the Interior Ministry
"treats all Egyptians on the same footing, and does not
differentiate between Copts and Muslims."

7. (U) On June 9, dozens of Copts gathered in a church near
the site of the May 28 Cairo jewelry store killing, planning
to hold a subsequent march protesting perceived police bias
against Copts, and alleged government inaction regarding the
recent violent incidents. Apparently concerned by the
possibility for more violent incidents occuring on the
sidelines of the protest, police reportedly cordoned off the
church, and prevented the Copts from holding the planned
demonstration outside.

8. (SBU) Based on our contacts and media reports, it appears
that the church leadership and the GOE are determined to play
down these events, and are taking precautionary steps to
defuse the situation. We will continue to be in close touch
with Church and Coptic contacts regarding all reports of
sectarian tensions and violence, and will urge the Egyptian
government to quickly bring the perpetrators of these violent
acts to justice.
SCOBEY

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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