Egyptian lawmakers intervene to allow expelled Christians to return home

A parliamentary delegation met with locals yesterday in the village of Sharbat, where sectarian strife had led to the expulsion of eight Christian families.

Five of eight Christian families who were expelled from their village after sectarian strife in Egypt’s delta can now return, announced a parliamentary delegation that visited Sharbat yesterday to investigate.

That some of the families may return is a positive development, but the continued reliance on informal mediation instead of the rule of law to end the crisis is worrying, says Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. The original decision to expel the families was also made by an ad hoc council, a traditional system of local justice that often leaves victims of sectarian conflict little recourse.

“I think we need to apply the law. It’s a shame that members of the People’s Assembly use this illegal method” to address the results of the initial mediation, he says. “They didn’t uphold the law and the state.”

On Jan. 27, following rumors of an affair between a Muslim man and Christian woman in Sharbat, villagers attacked and burned several Christian homes and shops. One Christian man fired a gun into the air during the confrontation, which Muslim residents said incited violence. Village leaders, at a series of unofficial reconciliation meetings overseen by police and governorate officials and some attended by members of parliament, decided that eight Christian families would leave the village.

All of the families were related to either the man who supposedly had the affair or the man who shot a gun. Those related to the shooter were the ones given permission to return.

The parliament members who visited yesterday represented a range of parties, both secular and Islamist. Members from Islamist parties were present at the initial “reconciliation councils.”

They announced that the families of those related to the man who shot the gun during the attack could return, and asserted that they were never forced to leave in the first place but chose to leave for their safety. The patriarch of the four families who may now return, Abu Suleiman, said this week that the committee told him he could leave the village or face continued attacks.

The statement by parliament members did not mention the remaining three families, and blamed media for exaggerating and worsening the situation. It also urged police to investigate the attacks on Christian homes and shops.

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