FUNDAMENTALISTS DEMAND MAFIA-STYLE PROTECTION MONEY FROM COPTS
By Richard Engel
Middle East Times
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 region.
"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
The handwritten letter was signed "Gamma Islamiya".
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
"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
"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
Hanna explained that he believes this phenomena is a serious
problem because it will cause a demographic shift in Egypt and is damaging to
"I accuse the National Democratic Party right away because for the
last 20 years they have excluded the Copts from political life."
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 share.
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,"
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," explained Said.
"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," said Said.
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.
This article would have appeared in the 5 April 1997 issue of The
Middle East Times.
This article was mailed from Middle East Times
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