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More on the Copts here.
Fundamentalists demand Mafia-style
protection money from Copts
Richard Engel Abu Qurqas
Middle East Times (Egypt)
Samir is planning to escape with his family from a small village
near Abu Qurqas to Cairo. He fears for his life and has been told
that if he refuses to pay gizia ("requital") money that
Muslim villagers demand for the 'protection' of his family, he
will be killed.
"They take whenever they need," says Samir who was
afraid to give his full name. "When they need weapons they
take from the Christians. I'm scared I will be killed. Even if I
was killed, no one would say anything. Even a witness to my
murder wouldn't say anything."
Samir complains that gizia is increasing in a number of small
villages in Upper Egypt, making it impossible to remain in the
"Everyone pays, but what can we do? There are so many people
who deny it. They are lying! Everyone pays! I have no
outlet!" says Samir, apologizing for his excitement.
Amgad, also from a village near Abu Qurqas, has been living in
hiding in a poor district of Cairo for over a year. In 1996 he
received three letters demanding gizia from the Gamma Islamiya,
Egypt's largest Muslim militant group. The third letter, obtained
by the Middle East Times, said, "We demand EŁ10,000 from
you tomorrow. We will not accept one piaster less and if you
bring the money one day late it will be EŁ15,000. If you can't
bring it in these days we will not accept even millions of pounds
from you and you know the punishment for that. This is a final
decision." The handwritten letter was signed "Gamma
Bishop Thomas, responsible for about
100,000 Copts in the bishopric of Quiseyya, explained that gizia
has become "status quo" in some villages. The bishop,
who has kept track of over a hundred villagers forced to pay
protection money, explained that Christians in his bishopric are
forced to give gizia from
terrorists groups as well as from local Muslim bosses.
"Most of the itawwa [contributions] come from a well-known
person. He sends a message [saying] to send an amount of money.
They don't need secret letters. He will pass by [a Christian's
store or home] and say, 'you send me EŁ1,000.'"
The bishop explained that this type of extortion is "very
common," and that nearly all Christians pay gizia to Muslims
in five villages in Quiseyya.
"Of course in the other bishoprics they have [gizia]. Of
course, it is the same situation. In Minya and Abu Qurqas they
have this. They are mafia bosses. It's very well known that only
the Christians are paying," he added.
"The phenomena is much more important and serious than
the fanatics killing people in churches. This is the true
fundamentalism," said Milad Hanna,
a prominent Egyptian Coptic intellectual. The wicked and filthy
incidents of itawwa or gizia mean that there is no government in
Egypt. It means that
we are living in a fundamentalist state like Iran or Saudi
Hanna explained that he believes this phenomena is a serious
problem because it will cause a demographic shift in Egypt and is
damaging to national unity.
"I accuse the National Democratic Party right away because
for the last 20 years they have excluded the Copts from political
The bishop explained that gizia is demanded anytime there is an
exchange of money or when business is done. He explained that
whenever Copts return from abroad, buy or sell goods or property,
or harvest their land, a Muslim boss appears to collect his
Samir, who sells honey, explained that there is no escape from
the protection payments. He said he recently went to the Delta to
trade so that people would not know that he was doing business.
Samir explained, however, that the local Muslim boss followed him
to northern Egypt.
"It's a system that has destroyed development," said
Bishop Thomas, "It is a mafia." "They even take
from the people who don't have anything," said
Samir. Christians even go and borrow money to pay. "Everyone
knows, the police know and do nothing. I am very sad because a
lot of people are leaving because the situation is not
sound," said Samir
A pastor in Cairo, who asked not to be named, explained that the
Islamists use the Quran to justify taking money from Christians.
He pointed to Chapter 9, verse 29 of the Quran which states,
"Fight against those from among the people who do not
believe in Allah nor the last day... until they pay the
tribute out of hand, utterly subdued."
The pastor, who frequently visits the Minya governorate, said
gizia was not common until recently. "Gizia arose since the
draining of the militant's income, since the security forces
began cracking down on them. First they looted jewelry stores,
now they make some people pay."
"The problem is that the Islamists are trying to use
Christians as war prisoners," said Raafat Said, a Muslim and
member of parliament representing the leftist Tagammu party.
"The more the government tries to crack down, the more they
punish the Copts. The more the security forces cut off sources of
finance from abroad, the more they take from the Copts."
Said explained that the Copts are afraid of informing the police
because they do not believe that the police are interested in
helping them. "A lot of Copts are afraid of informing the
police and I doubt that the officer is interested in stopping
them because his inner feeling is to let the Copts pay,"
"We only know the people killed, we never know the people
who are paying because if they tell they are dead. A doctor was
recently killed because he refused to pay, we didn't know that he
had been paying," said Dr. Talat Hamad from Abu Qurqas.
"In my imagination the problem is the atmosphere. It is a
black atmosphere and we need to mobilize forces to stop it,"
Bishop Thomas explained that the violence serves to terrorize the
Coptic community into silence. He explained that in October 1994
two brothers who owned a grocery store had been paying gizia, but
refused to pay EŁ50,000. Days later, militants broke into the
brother's home and assassinated them in front of their families.
"This is hell, but I don't pay," said a Copt in
Quiseyya, adding that he would love to leave the region but
cannot afford it.
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