An Egyptian police officer shot and killed two Coptic Christian men – a father and son – in the province of Minya on December 12. But the murder was barely covered by the Egyptian media. Our Observer thinks that this silence is a result of an increasingly restrictive environment for the press and the media’s fear of countering the official narrative.
Egyptian Coptic Christians, especially those living in Minya, are reeling from tragedies in 2018. On November 2, a bus full of pilgrims who were going to the Saint Samuel Monastery in Minya were attacked by the Islamic State terrorist group. In total, seven people died and 19 were injured. Egyptian Coptic Christians, and their religious leaders, were particularly disturbed to see something like this happen again, since back in May 2017, a total of 29 people died in a similar attack on the same road.
And, just a month and a half later, another tragedy would strike the Coptic Christian community in Minya, which is 245 kilometres south of Cairo. Two men, Imad al-Maqdis, 49, and his 21-year-old son David, were shot and killed by a police officer who was tasked with providing security to the local church.
Two videos of the double murder have been circulating on social media. The first video is a mobile phone recording of a screen broadcasting footage from a surveillance camera. This video shows the officer shooting the two men.
The second video was filmed by a man in a neighbouring building, just after the shooting. The police officer claims that the two men tried to get his gun off of him, but the footage from the surveillance camera contradicts this series of events. In reality, the officer lost it during a conversation with the two men, and shot and killed them.
The first video (which is a mobile phone recording made by someone who was watching the security footage) shows the policeman, who is at the top left, speaking to the son, David al-Maqdis. At about 1’35, the father, Imad, joins the conversation.
A man in a neighbouring building started filming just after the police officer murdered David and Imad al-Maqdis. The two victims are lying in a pool of blood. At 0’25, the police officer says, “They wanted to take my gun!”
After the attack on Coptic Christian pilgrims in November, many people spoke out against this violence – some members of parliament and ministers even came to the victim’s funerals. However, that wasn’t the case for this double murder. Essentially only media outlets rooted in the Coptic Christian community covered the murders, for example the television channel Mesat TV. Only one mainstream Egyptian TV channel covered the tragedy – and that was al-Sharq TV, which broadcasts from outside Egypt.
It was only after the police officer was indicted on December 18 that several Egyptian websites started to cover it, by simply reprinting the prosecutor's statement.
The Attorney General indicted the policeman accused of murdering two Coptic Christian men.
In a tweet posted a day after the murders, the archbishop of Minya, Father Macarius, declared that “what happened yesterday is more serious than the attack on Saint Samuel monastery, which was carried out by those who are enemies to us all. The attack yesterday, on the other hand, was carried out by a member of the Ministry of the Interior, which is supposed to protect people and institutions.”
"It’s not in Sissi’s interest for cases like this to get much media attention”
Mina Thabet is a Coptic Christian activist in London. She is also the director of the programme for religious minorities at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Liberties. This used to be based in Cairo but its headquarters there closed after some of its members were arrested. Thabet says that the authorities’ silence after this killing is just a reflection of the way that the government talks about violence against Coptic Christians carried out by the state.
Since he came to power, President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi has painted himself as the man who would save Egypt and the Egyptians from terrorism and religious extremists [Editor’s note: Sissi came to power in 2013 after a military coup overthrew President Mohamed Morsi, who was from the Muslim Brotherhood].Sissi has cultivated this image abroad as a way to get the support of Western nations. He has also tried to use this image to get support from Coptic Christians, who have been targeted by numerous extremist attacks since 2011. He says that he is the president of all Egyptians and makes it sound as if, without him, it would be utter chaos. Sissi doesn’t want cases like this to get much media attention, so he exerts his influence to muzzle the media.”
Since 2013, Egyptian media outlets have faced an increasingly hostile landscape. It all got worse after “the anti-terrorism law” came into effect in August 2015. This law forces journalists to only print the official version during terrorist attacks. Press freedom is rapidly deteriorating. Recently, the organisation Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) has called Egypt “one of the biggest prisons in the world for journalists.”
"This undercuts all of the official discourse about protecting minorities”
Egypt isn’t the only country targeted by the IS group. However, in this case, the violence is being carried out by a representative of the state, which undercuts all of the official discourse about protecting minorities.
Religious authorities didn’t want to make this incident into a religious issue, because, ultimately, the double murder was the result of a dispute between the officer and the two men.
However, if you consider this incident in a wider context, I think that the religious aspect definitely played a role. Who has power plays a role in social violence, so it is not by chance that this violence was carried out by someone from the majority – in this case, a Muslim man – against people from minority groups. It’s especially apparent when the perpetrator is a representative of power.
Archbishop Macarius tweeted: "After this incident, we must verify that there are not people who carry such dangerous weapons who cannot control their anger. This isn’t just a danger for Coptic Christians, it is a danger for everyone.”