Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1165, (19 - 25 September 2013)
Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Issue 1165, (19 - 25 September 2013)

Ahram Weekly

The passion of Delga

The shocking events that have been taking place in the Upper Egyptian village of Delga may now be coming to an end, writes Michael Adel

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Al-Ahram Weekly

On Monday morning, and amid cheers from the inhabitants of the Upper Egyptian village of Delga, large numbers of police and soldiers backed by armoured vehicles marched into the village, as part of a security campaign that aims at purging the village from criminal and terrorist elements.
Jubilant crowds gathered in the streets to chant, “the army, the police, and the nation: one hand.”
The police, greeted by cheers from the population, asked the inhabitants to go inside their homes, in order to allow them to patrol the streets. Some 56 people were arrested on charges of assaulting the police forces and attacking governmental and religious institutions. Weapons were also seized during the campaign.
 The village of Delga in Upper Egypt is not used to making the headlines, and it would have preferred to have remained as it always was — peaceful and insignificant.
Nestled in the middle of farmland some 75 miles from Minya in Upper Egypt, Delga still calls itself a village despite its population of 120,000 people, of whom 20,000 or so are Copts.
It does not have the kind of amenities found in more urban places or those closer to the capital. Illiteracy is widespread, poverty is common, and health services scant, and yet there seems to be a lot of weapons in this village that survives mainly on agriculture, as well as on trade in leather and scrap metal.
Since the 30 June Revolution, the inhabitants say, Delga has been beyond the reach of the army and police. Last Friday, the army tried to deploy in Delga, but was immediately repulsed, according to an eyewitness report.
“The army fled. Everyone here has guns, including women and children. Some locals snatched a gun from an army general, but others interceded and gave him the gun back. The situation is becoming harder every day. If the police find anyone from Delga outside the village, he is arrested on the spot,” the eyewitness said.
The security forces have tried to enter the village three times since August, but each time they have failed. The village has also become notorious for sectarian violence, with churches being attacked and Christian homes violated. Television channels sympathetic to the Islamists have been able to go into the village to film pro-Muslim Brotherhood marches. But the police have been unable to go in.
Delga erupted in violence almost the minute the army deposed former president Mohamed Morsi on 3 July, with hundreds of people surrounding churches and lobbing firebombs inside them. The attacks led to extensive damage to the social services building of the Mar Girgis Church for Coptic Catholics, according to Father Ayoub, the church’s pastor.
Delga’s sectarian troubles are not new, some dating back to before the 25 January Revolution, but since last July the horror has been unspeakable. Father Makarius, the archbishop of Minya for Coptic Orthodox Christians, said that the inhabitants of Delga had been forced to pay protection money to local gangs in order to save their lives and property.
The Minya department of religious endowments has made efforts to end the use of mosques for sectarian propaganda. But it has still been common to hear the loudspeakers of mosques reverberate with the call to “come to the aid of our brothers in Rabaa Al-Adaweya and Nahda” in Cairo.
Residents who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly on condition of anonymity said that nearly 500 armed supporters of the deposed former president had been involved in the attacks against the Copts and their churches.
The five churches in the village, one of which dates back to the fourth century CE, were all burned down. Nearly 27 houses were torched. In one brutal attack, a Christian man was killed and his body dragged into the streets.
Pro-Brotherhood armed gangs also operate in nearby areas. Attackers have stolen weapons from the police station in nearby Deir Mawwas and released prisoners from its detention cells. They have also burned down the Deir Mawwas courthouse.
They have robbed most of the Coptic stores and burned down the local government offices in neighbouring Malawi, while at the same time looting the Malawi Museum.
The prosecutor-general has ordered the arrest of 28 suspects who took part in the attacks against the churches. But though the police have arrested several individuals in connection with the recent acts of violence, the well-known instigators remain at large.
On the morning of 14 August, the day when the Rabaa Al-Adaweya and Al-Nahda sit-ins were dispersed, Morsi supporters went into action. In a frenzy of uncontrollable violence, they launched a concerted attack on Coptic homes and property in the area.
Several criminals from the nearby village of Naga Khatt, including a man named Saleh Rahim, took part in the bloody events that followed, Rahim himself later being killed during the attack on the Abu Mawwas police station.
The attacks began at 8am, and before the day was over 72 homes had been torched. One man, a 60-year-old barber named Iskandar Tus Saqr, was killed and his body dragged to the Ebad Al-Rahman Mosque. Later on, it was dumped near the cemetery.
When a Muslim man, moved by compassion, decided to bury the body in his own family cemetery, extremists exhumed the body and took it away. Later, the body was interred by friends in an unknown location to protect it from further attacks.
The Copts of Delga, who still hold mass on Sundays, have had to prepare for communion in secret for fear of the violence.
Eyewitnesses said that three unknown gunmen had abducted a Christian resident as he was delivering flour to bakeries. Such abductions are usually followed by the assailants demanding a ransom from the hostage’s family.
Many Christians were told that their homes would be torched unless they paid protection money. With no police in the village, they had no other choice but to pay.
Father Ayoub told journalists that 150 Christian families had left their homes, which were subsequently torched or seized by gangs.
Churchmen such as Ayoub and Makarius have been wondering why the police have done nothing to save Delga, though Makarius said that over recent days security had improved, with the police setting up roadblocks, running patrols, seizing weapons, and making arrests.
In some cases, however, militants have been able to stop the police by using women and children as human shields. Eyewitnesses said that Morsi supporters had also been trying to stop the police from seizing workshops converted into weapons factories.
These weapons are then smuggled out of the village through the desert roads on the western side.
For the past few weeks, the Coptic inhabitants of Delga have lived like hostages, hiding in fear, subjected to abuse, and paying gangs for protection.
Father Youannis Shawki, pastor of the Anba Ibram Church in Delga, said that Copts were living in fear and that they were made to listen to loudspeaker calls for attacks on their lives and property.
Many Copts have had to pay LE100 or LE200 to gangs to protect them from attacks.
The Anba Ibram Church was the first to be attacked on 14 August. “I was on my way to lead the mass in the church when I got a phone call telling me not to come as thousands of people were rioting in front of the church. Within moments, the church was attacked, and then the ancient chapel of the Virgin Mary, built 1,600 years ago, also came under attack,” he said.
The Mar Girgis Church was next. Later on, several Coptic homes were torched. A child called Kyrollos Youssef Saad, the nephew of Father Youannis, was abducted and later killed by his abductors although the family had paid a ransom.
A Coptic man called Hunein, 35, was also abducted and the family had to pay LE180,000 to secure his release.

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