In Kenya, there is an unceasing call for an amnesty for those who participated in the political violence that erupted in the wake of the last presidential elections. In this case, amnesty seems to be essential to shut down this unpalatable dossier. However, skeptics say that amnesty should follow the implementation of the law, not to be an alternative itself to the legal system. This argument is quite fantastic. In a modern state, if people commit illegal acts, they cannot go unpunished. Indeed, amnesty without putting wrongdoers on trial, undoubtedly bears an implicit call for more aggression and denial of justice. On the contrary, when justice is attained, amnesty for legally convicted individuals might have a meaning.
This debate can be found everywhere, not just in Kenya. Across continents, we hear voices crying for amnesty following massive assaults on lives and property. In history this kind of amnesty took place after revolutions, when new leaders decided to make a fresh start in public life. Nevertheless, it is unacceptable to always put the law aside for the sake of reconciliation. This has negative consequences on the level of justice in society.
In Egypt, since sectarian strife bared its ugly teeth in the early 1970s, neither violence brokers nor perpetrators have ever been put on trial. Following every sectarian incident, the local authorities publicy sponsor reconciliation moves between Copts and Muslims, leaving a strong feeling of injustice accumulating among Christians. In all sectarian cases, except the one that occurred last winter in Esna, victims were compensated by the church, not the government.
This official attitude towards sectarian clashes has vigorously strengthened the sense of marginalization among Christians. In 1996, when some Muslims destroyed Copts’ houses and burned a part of the church in Kafr Damyan, Sharqiya, the governor at this moment was quoted as saying that the church is wealthy and has to compensate Coptic victims. In Esna, Qena, when some Muslims attacked shops and businesses owned by Christians last December following a fight between a Muslim and a Christian, the government compensated the victims for the first time, but declined to bring attackers to justice.
Early this week, there was a new assault on a monastery close to Malawy, Minya. According to Christian sources, this is number 18 in a series of consecutive attacks on the Monastery and its monks that took place over the past three years. Official sources say this assault is the ninth. Regardless of the numbers, the whole situation is harmful.
Three monks were kidnapped and spent one night in captivity before security forces freed them. At least seven monks were injured and many buildings inside the monastery were destroyed. One Muslim was killed under strange circumstances. The attackers, who are believed to belong to one of the Arab tribes existing in the area, were armed with unusual weapons, although monks are peaceful and unarmed.
In every attack on the monastery, there was an artificial reconciliation between monks and Arab tribes. In 2006 both sides, under the auspices of local authorities, signed outlining distinct rights and obligations for them.
However, this agreement has not been implemented. Last January, there was an attack on the same monastery. This time, the assault is qualitatively and quantitatively worse.
Local authorities are currently pushing for another reconciliation between monks and the Arab tribes. I am not sure that this reconciliation, which is still denounced by the church, can bring calm and stability to the area.
Instead, implementing the law would definitely create a better environment for Muslim-Christian relationships.
The governor of Minya has been restlessly trying to prove that this assault is not sectarian. He says it is a conflict about a disputed piece of land. I totally agree with him. But, the way he is handling the problem proves that this matter is purely sectarian. If it is just a dispute over the ownership of a piece of land, why do local authorities want to address it outside the courts?
In my point of view, the government has to implement the law this time, making no excuses for criminals, whose Mafia-style operation strained interfaith relationships in society, and tarnished the tolerant image of Egypt abroad. This is the only way to make sure this assault is the last one.
Sameh Fawzy is an Egyptian journalist, PhD researcher, and specialist on governance and citizenship.