Soad Thabet was “punished” in Egypt in 2016 for an alleged affair her son had with a Muslim woman. Now, her torturers have been found not guilty.
by Daniela Bovolenta
It was May 20, 2016, a day like many others in the village of Karam Abu Omair, in the Minya governorate in Upper Egypt. Suddenly, the houses belonging to the local Coptic Christian minority were surrounded by an angry mob of some 300 Muslims. They set fire to several homes, shouting that the Christians should leave the village—or else.
The mob searched the homes of the terrorized Christians. They were looking for a specific person, a 70-year-old woman called Soad Thabet. Her attempts to hide failed. She was found, stripped naked, and paraded in the streets of Karam Abu Omair, with the crowd insulting and threatening her. Her house was also burned.
What did Soad do to infuriate her torturers? Allegedly, her son had an affair with a married Muslim woman of the village, the wife of his former business partner. Both the son and the woman deny the rumor as untrue, and generated by the collective paranoia against Coptic men “stealing” Muslim women.
The incident created a national scandal, in a country where respect for the elderly is a cherished value. Even President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi felt the need to appear on television and state that “anyone who wronged [Soad], no matter how many they are, must be held accountable,” although he also said, more ambiguously, he hoped the Coptic woman was “not too incensed.” Implicitly answering the President, Soad in turn met the media with her bishop, stating she was ready to forgive her attackers as a Christian—which did not mean justice should not follow its course.
Only three men, Nazeer Ishaq Ahmed Abdel-Hafez, Abdel-Moneim Ishaq Ahmed Abdel-Hafez, and Ishaq Ahmed Abdel-Hafez (the husband of the alleged lover of Soad’s son, his father, and his brother), were eventually committed to trial for the incident. There were several incidents when judges recused themselves and hearings were moved to different courts or postponed, until on January 11, 2020, the defendants, who had disappeared, were convicted in absentia and sentenced to ten years in jail by the Minya Criminal Court.
Soad was happy about the verdict, but the story did not end there. The three defendants turned themselves on the condition of obtaining a retrial. They were retried last week, and declared innocent, in what the NGO Coptic Solidarity called yet another case of legal discrimination against the Copts.
It was reported that Egypt’s Prosecutor General was considering appealing the verdict, when its grounds will be released. But the whole incident raises serious doubts about the willingness of the Egyptian legal system to punish mob violence against the Copts.