By Ahmed Aboulenein and Omar Fahmy, Reuters.
Soad Thabet’s house no longer has a door. Inside, its walls are blackened with soot and a television lies shattered on the floor. The remains of a red nightgown stand out among the ashes.
Thabet, 70, describes being dragged outside by Muslim villagers and stripped naked in the dirt roads of Alkarm, the Egyptian village where she spent her most of her adult life.
Her crime? Her son, a married Christian, was rumored to have had an affair with a married Muslim woman. The woman has since denied the affair took place on national television.
“They burned the house and went in and dragged me out, threw me in front of the house and ripped my clothes. I was just as my mother gave birth to me, screaming and crying,” Thabet told Reuters a week after the attack.
Orthodox Copts like Thabet, who make up about a tenth of Egypt’s 90 million population, are the Middle East’s largest Christian community. They have long complained of discrimination in the majority-Muslim country.
Sectarian attacks occur so frequently in Egypt that they rarely attract wide publicity. But Thabet’s ordeal, the public humiliation of an elderly woman, prompted an outcry among Copts and led to the case becoming national news.
“If it were just a burning we could handle it, but what can we do about what happened to the woman? How can you compensate for this insult?” Ishak William, Thabet’s neighbor and relative, told Reuters at his house in Alkarm.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has denounced the Alkarm attack, which underlines that Copts remain vulnerable three years after he took power and pledged to unite the country following years of political turmoil.
Sectarian violence often erupts on the back of rumors about inter-faith romances or suspicions that Christians are building churches without the required official permission.
Homes are burned, crops are razed, churches are attacked and, occasionally, Copts are forced to leave their villages, say human rights groups and residents of the southern province of Minya, home to Egypt’s largest Christian community.