Christians are bitterly disappointed that Souad Thabet’s case has been thrown out. At the time of the incident, President al-Sisi released a statement calling the attacks “unacceptable” and said none of those responsible will “escape without justice”.
In May 2016, a 300-strong Salafi mob attacked a 70-year-old Coptic grandmother, Souad Thabet, from the village of al-Karm in Minya province, 250 kilometres south of Cairo. Thabet was stripped naked, beaten and paraded through the street following a rumour that her son was having an affair with a Muslim woman. Thabet’s husband and daughter-in-law were also attacked and injured. At the same time, the mob attacked several Christian houses, burning seven to the ground, including Thabet’s.
President al-Sisi, who has been reaching out to the Christian communities across Egypt, demanded an immediate investigation into the attack, apologised directly to Souad Thabet and ordered that the destroyed houses be repaired by the government. Charges were subsequently brought against Nazeer Ishaq, the husband of the woman alleged to have had the affair with Thabet’s son, and several members of the mob.
On 14 January, prosecutors announced that the case had been thrown out, citing insufficient evidence due to the fact that several witnesses had changed their testimonies. Thabet’s lawyer, Ihab Ramzy, calls it “a calamity”, claiming that the witnesses had changed their statements under threat from the Salafi defendants. He says he will be filing an appeal for the prosecution to re-open the case.
In the meanwhile, two other related cases are still ongoing: twenty-five villagers charged with arson for the destruction of the houses, and two local detectives who face charges of tampering with evidence and changing Thabet’s testimony.
Anti-Christian persecution – ranging from marginalisation to murder – is not uncommon in Egypt. It is more blatant and unrestrained when it occurs outside the larger cities in the provincial or rural areas where law and order are less stringently maintained. Coptic Christians are deeply disillusioned by the whole affair and Souad Thabet is very bitter: “I have been treated cruelly and unfairly … it looks like the case has been cooked up so that there is no evidence … May God bring me justice.”