By ICC's Egypt Representative
International Christian Concern
Violence erupted as police tried to enforce a court ruling to return a plot of land to its Christian owner after it had been taken over by the Lahoty family in 2012, as International Christian Concern (ICC) previously reported. A Muslim man related to the tribe of Lahoty was killed during the violent clashes between the police and the Bedouins in Al-Oula village on Sunday.
Violent Resistance of Security Forces, Court Ruling
The story goes back to 2012, when the Lahoty family who belong to the Muslim Brotherhood seized the opportunity of the beginning of Muslim Brotherhood rule under Mohammed Morsi and took over a ten acre plot of land adjacent to Mar Girgis Church in Al-Oula village. The land is owned by the Makanouti family who lives in Al-Kasara village, which is six kilometers from Al-Oula village, and owns about 180 acres in different places in the Nahda area.
The Makanouti family first tried to recover their land through resorting to reconciliation sessions but to no avail. "We went to a moderate Salafi Sheikh named Sharif El-Halwary in Amreya who helps to solve disputes among the Amreya residents," Naguib Hamadi Makanouti, the son of the landowner told ICC. "We asked him to intervene and return our usurped land. He investigated the case and made sure that this land belongs to us, but he was unable to return it to us. Finally, after the failure of all the peaceful ways to return our usurped land, we went to the court," Naguib recounted.
In September 2013, the Makanouti family obtained ruling number 2723 from the Alexandria Court of First Instance to restore their land. In April 2014, the police of Amreya headed Al-Oula village to execute the court order and restore the disputed land to the Makanoti family, but faced opposition then as well.
"As soon as the police entered the village, the Lahoty family used the loudspeakers of El-Tawhid mosque in Al-Oula village to rally the Muslims to defend them against the police,"Naguib told ICC. "Immediately a large crowd of Muslims including children, women demonstrated in our land and attacked the police. They were pelting them with stones and rocks. The police then couldn't control the situation and had to temporarily withdraw," Naguib said.
On Sunday, September 20, 2015, the police headed to Al-Oula village for the second time to regain the land for the Makanouti family. "Many thousands of armed Bedouins ambushed the police among the tall corn plants next to our land and attacked the police. They used stones, rocks and exchanged gunfire with them. The police used tear gas to disperse them but the police were unable to control the situation because the number of the demonstrators was extremely large. There were injures among the police men and a Muslim young man named Mahmoud Rawag Issa, 27 years old and a relative of the Lahoty family, was killed during these clashes. So the police had to withdraw," Naguib said.
After the police left, a crowd of Muslims attacked the Mar Girgis church. They surrounded it and hurled stones and rocks at it. They then attacked four homes owned by Coptic Christians in Al-Oula village. Multiple people were injured, including two who were hospitalized in critical condition. They also caused damage to some Christian properties.
How Long Will We Be Trapped in Our Homes?
The family of Mahmoud has refused to accept condolences and their women refused to wear black clothes, common for a family in mourning. Instead, they want to take revenge on the Makanouti family.
"We are hiding in our homes," Naguib told ICC. "We are afraid to go out because we have received many death threats from the family of the man who was killed. They want to take revenge on us because they consider us as the main reason he was killed. The situation is extremely dangerous for us now and there isn't any protection for us," Nagiub said.
Despite the gravity of the situation for the Makatouni family, there isn't any protection from the government for them. They are receiving ongoing death threats and are still hiding in their homes.
"We ask our Muslim neighbors to bring food for us from the stores," Mousa Zarif, a nephew of the landowner told ICC. "We have received many threats from Bedouins demanding us to leave our homes and lands and get out of the village, otherwise they kill us. We cannot do that, we don't have any another place to move to," said Mousa. "Our children also cannot go to their schools, we are afraid that they would be kidnapped [or] killed by Bedouins if they went out to the street."
"We live in fear and terror and there isn't any protection for us. Where is the police? Where is the government? How long will we be trapped in our homes?" Mousa asked.
The economic impact on the Maknouti family could be devastating as harvest approaches.
"It's the time of reaping the tomato harvest," Mousa told ICC. "We have about 13 acres of cultivated tomato plants. Their harvest is estimated at more than one million EGP [$127,000], but we cannot go to reap the harvest. The Lahoty family have prevented any workers from working in any piece of our land. They threatened them with death if anyone were to come work for us. So our loss from this could be very big," Mousa said.
Other Christians Have Lost Land As Well
The confiscation of Christian land was not limited to only the Makanouti family. At least two other families in the Nahda area also had their land taken over by Bedouins.
Samir Dmitry owns an 80 acre plot of land adjacent to the land of Makanouti family. It too was taken over by the Lahoty family in the beginning of Muslim Brotherhood rule in 2012. He has been unable to regain control of it although he also has a court ruling to restore it.
Another building owned by a Christian man named Emad Halim in El-Hamam, Nahda was taken over by Bedouins.
"I purchased a 750 meter piece of land in El-Hamam, Nahda area from a Bedouin person related to Lahoty family for 85 thousand EGP," Emad told ICC. "In 2011, I built on it, fenced it and left the building closed as I live in another area called Al-Hawees, 6 kilometer from this building. On May 25, 2014, the person who I purchased the land from... broke into my building, demolished its fence, broke its door and seized it, and I'm unable to restore it from him till now."
Mousa, on behalf of his family and the community in the Nahda area, urged the president and government to intervene and solve their case. "We beg President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi to intervene and solve our case. The situation is extremely bad and it is growing worse over time. We urge the government and the military to protect us and solve our case. We ask all Christians to pray for us, to pray for our case, to pray for our protection, and peace in Egypt,"Mousa said.
Mar Girgis Coptic Orthodox Church in Al-Oula village fasted and prayed for three days fromMonday to Wednesday regarding to the current bad events in the area.
Father Boktor Nashed, the priest of Mar Girgis church told ICC "We ask all the people to pray for the protection of all the Christians in the area, the peace to prevail over our area, and to lift the anguish and hardship from us."
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