Is this the future for neighborhoods in the U.S. that are being converted into Muslim ghettos courtesy of elitist politicians and human trafficking aid groups?
EZBET AL-FORN — Of the few streets that lie perpendicular to each other in Ezbet al-Forn in Upper Egypt’s Minya Governorate, your surroundings vary depending on which one you choose to walk down.
At the corner of one, a few meters away from a house used as a church where one security guard is stationed, I encounter a number of Coptic women.
“Over here, people are Christian. In the area starting with that colorful building over there, people are Muslim,” one of them tells me, pointing to a house 100 meters away, right next to the church. “We face south; they face north,” she adds.
When tension befell the village in September after security forces prevented Coptic residents from holding religious ceremonies in a house they used as a church, arguing that it was not registered, Copts emphasized that their problem was with security forces and not the Muslims living in the area.
Anba Makarios, the bishop of Minya and Abu Qurqas, confirmed this sentiment, telling Mada Masr that the segregation of houses in the area does not allow for sectarian conflict to occur, in a governorate where there are two million Copts out of approximately 5.6 million people, as per his estimate.
But while it is believed that the spatial segregation contributes to the sense of security and freedom of worship that the Coptic minority enjoys in Upper Egypt, it also maintains a separation where false perceptions can fester, as well as the apprehension internalized by both groups toward each other.
In the village, a funeral tent in an alley connects a Christian-populated street with a Muslim-populated one. Visitors flock to it from both sides, an observation that residents point to as evidence of the peaceful relationship between Copts and Muslims in the area.
“We are one family. We say good morning to them, and they say good morning to us. We do not wrong them, and they do not wrong us,” a Coptic woman tells me.
“This is just how we found things,” she says, pointing to how the spatial arrangement is more inherited than chosen.
But underneath the exchange of greetings, the separation doesn’t prevent the expression of less cordial sentiments.
For a Muslim resident of Ezbet al-Forn, the existing segregation is better. “Christians can live among Muslims, but Muslims cannot live among Christians. We are merciful and we forgive; they do not,” he argues.
His friend, from the neighboring [Muslim] area of Ezbet al-Nakhl, concurs, saying that he does not feel comfortable among Copts. Their food, he says, has a foul odor. The segregation helps avert problems that might increase as a result of a mixed living: “If we live on the same street and the son of a Coptic man hits my son, I would kill him. It cannot be that a Christian hits a Muslim.”
“We appear to be friendly to each other. We accept each other’s invitations and go to each other’s funerals and weddings. But, at the end of the day, Muslims are loyal to those of their faith, and Christians are loyal to those of their faith,” is how one Muslim resident of Ezbet al-Forn summarizes the fragile peace.
Indeed, evidence of sectarian incidents contradicts the idea that segregation has prevented tension. According to a report released by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights in 2016, 77 incidents of sectarian violence have occurred in Minya alone since 2011. The most striking of these took place in May 2016 when Muslims from the village of Karm stripped an elderly Christian woman naked and dragged her through the streets following rumors that her son was in a relationship with a Muslim woman. The incident enraged the Egyptian public, evoking an apology from President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi himself. However, the investigation was closed and the assailants were not punished. More incidents continued to take place, including an attack on the Copts of Kom al-Loufy in April, where residents threw rocks at people as they were exiting church after the Maundy Thursday prayer.