SAT-7 current affairs show Bridges has reported on the latest turn in the shocking case of Souad Thabet, a 70-year-old Christian woman who was stripped naked and dragged through the streets of Al-Karm village in Upper Egypt in May 2016.
This and the torching of her and six other Christian-owned homes followed rumours of an affair between her son and a local woman. Her son and the woman both deny the allegations entirely.
The terrible assault on Mrs Thabet prompted international outrage and the intervention of President Al-Sisi. The President apologised on behalf of the nation and ordered the reconstruction of the destroyed homes.
In the latest twist, however, the local prosecution court dropped charges against the main defendant, Nazeer Ishaq, “for insufficient evidence, owing to the fact that several witnesses had retracted their testimonies under pressure and threats”.
On 21 January Mrs Thabet’s lawyer, Ihab Ramzy, told Bridges he had requested to have the investigation reopened based on the emergence of new evidence. This included video evidence of a neighbour who helped Mrs Thabet and “the recorded testimony of some public officers who witnessed the incident”. “We have hopes that the case will be reopened,” he said.
The programme also featured an interview with Mrs Thabet, who is now staying with another relative in a different location. Although her home has been rebuilt, continued threats mean that Mrs Thabet and the family dare not set foot in the village.
In the featured interview, Mrs Thabet described her ordeal and told how a woman nearby helped her off the street and gave her a gown to wear before the mob returned, banging on the door to attack Mrs Thabet again. With the help of a second neighbour, Mrs Thabet then hid in an out-house.
“They threw petrol and burned our home,” she said. “We left on the same day and have been moving around ever since. We went to Cairo, to Minya and other places. We’re still on the move,” she said. Asked why she hasn’t now returned to her home, she said, “Whenever we try to return, we receive threats of being killed.”
Read original report about the mob attack on Mrs Thabet’s home
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Before taking her case to court, Mrs Thabet said village elders and members of parliament had urged her to attend a reconciliation meeting – a practice often offered to Christian victims of extremist attacks but that results in no prosecution of the offenders.
Mrs Thabet refused, saying “I must get justice first then reconcile with them. Now”, she said, “they are bargaining with me by threatening to hurt my son to force me into reconciliation.”
Her son, Ashraf, told Egyptian news agency Watani that he had gone to the police fearing the worst when the allegations first arose. He acted on their advice to take his family and flee the village. “Then my parents and the Copts in the village were collectively punished on my account,” he said.
Mrs Thabet admitted that she had been traumatised by the terrible humiliation she had undergone. “I cannot for one moment forget the degradation they’ve done to me,” she said. “I remember it morning and night. I lived all my life in this village and no one ever dared to approach me. But they came and degraded me.”
She remains resolute. “Where are my rights? If one of [the attackers’] sisters or nieces had been degraded as I have, what would they have done? They wouldn’t have dismissed it.
“Now we don’t have any support but God,” she reflected. “God is great. He will bring me my justice.”
The Bridges programme on SAT-7 will continue to cover Mrs Thabet’s case, as it does others that highlight the injustice and discrimination faced by many vulnerable Christians in Egypt and elsewhere.
Through a mix of news, field reports, interviews with the public and probing conversations with commentators and civil society figures, the programme acts as both a mouthpiece and adviser for Arab Christians on social and political issues.
SAT-7 recognises that women are especially vulnerable in situations of persecution and subjected to discrimination and restrictions in multiple ways in the Middle East. A stream of dedicated programmes on each of the networks language channels seek to empower women, showing them and their families their God-given dignity.
17 February 2017: A judge on Wednesday (15 February) accepted the petition of Mrs Thabet’s lawyer, Ihab Ramzy. Three men implicated in the assault have now been indicted. Please pray for justice for Mrs Thabet as the case proceeds.