Egypt drops charges against men accused of stripping and beating a 70-year-old Christian woman… but prosecute her son for adultery with a Muslim neighbour's wife
Soad Thabet, a Coptic Christian, was attacked in May last year
Muslim villagers dragged her from her home along the dirt roads of Alkarm
Her son was rumoured to have had an affair with a married Muslim woman
Both he and the woman deny the affair but he will be prosecuted
Sectarian violence often erupts after rumours about inter-faith romances
Christian woman Soad Thabet, 70, was attacked after her son was rumoured to have had an affair with a married Muslim woman
Three Muslim men accused of stripping a 70-year-old Christian woman naked and beating her in the street in Egypt have had the charges against them dropped.
Soad Thabet was attacked after her son was rumoured to have had an affair with a married Muslim woman.
Despite dropping the charges against her alleged attackers, authorities are pressing ahead with the prosecution of Mrs Thabet's son for adultery.
Mrs Thabet, a Coptic Christian, was attacked in May last year by Muslim villagers who dragged her from her home along the dirt roads of Alkarm, the Egyptian village where she spent her most of her adult life.
'They burned the house and went in and dragged me out, threw me in front of the house and ripped my clothes. I was just as my mother gave birth to me, screaming and crying,' Thabet told Reuters a week after the attack.
But authorities have now dropped the case against her attackers due to a 'lack of evidence'.
Her son Ashraf Abdo Attia will be tried for alleged adultery later this month.
Adultery is illegal in Egypt and relationships between Christian men and Muslim women are also forbidden. However, Mr Abdo Attia, denies having an affair with the wife of his former business partner.
The woman has also since denied the affair took place on national television.
Mrs Thabet told The Telegraph this week: 'I was hoping that they will be punished. The people who comfort me say that Jesus was himself stripped naked. Now, I complain only to God, and hope he brings justice.'
Pictured is another damaged home belonging to one of seven Christian families, whose houses were looted and set on fire by Muslim men, in the southern province of Minya last year
In this Christian home, pictured in May last year, chairs were ripped from the wall. Sectarian attacks occur so frequently in Egypt that they rarely attract wide publicity
Orthodox Copts like Mrs Thabet, who make up about a tenth of Egypt's 90 million population, are the Middle East's largest Christian community. They have long complained of discrimination in the majority-Muslim country.
Sectarian attacks occur so frequently in Egypt that they rarely attract wide publicity. But Mrs Thabet's ordeal, the public humiliation of an elderly woman, prompted an outcry among Copts and led to the case becoming national news at the time.
'If it were just a burning we could handle it, but what can we do about what happened to the woman? How can you compensate for this insult?' Ishak William, Mrs Thabet's neighbour and relative, told Reuters at his house in Alkarm.
At the time President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi denounced the Alkarm attack, which underlines that Copts remain vulnerable four years after he took power and pledged to unite the country following years of political turmoil.
After the attack in May, Bishop Makarios, the highest Coptic church official in Minya, said: 'We have people getting killed and there is no one answering for it, money stolen, houses looted, girls kidnapped ... and we bear it all and let it pass, but now there is escalation'
Sectarian violence often erupts on the back of rumours about inter-faith romances or suspicions that Christians are building churches without the required official permission.
Homes are burned, crops are razed, churches are attacked and, occasionally, Copts are forced to leave their villages, say human rights groups and residents of the southern province of Minya, home to Egypt's largest Christian community.
Then come the reconciliation sessions, processes informally backed by the government that see local Coptic priests and Muslim clerics attempt to mediate a communal peace without resorting to the legal system.
Christians interviewed by Reuters said the sessions often end with them making concessions, such as agreeing that certain families leave town or that the church not bear a visible cross, while those who perpetrated the attacks often go unpunished.
Muslim residents and religious officials say the informal process helps broker compromises to avoid a cycle of escalation and retribution.
Copts often go along with it to avert more trouble.
The attack took place in the Egyptian village of Alkarm, in Egypt's Minya province, in the agricultural hinterland of Upper Egypt
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (C) is pictured delivering a speech during the funeral ceremony for the victims of the explosion at Saint Peter and Saint Paul Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo, Egypt on December 12, 2016
But the May attack left a new bitterness among the Copts of tiny Alkarm, in the agricultural hinterland of Upper Egypt. This time, they say, reconciliation is not enough.
'We answer to the law, not to reconciliation sessions. Whoever did this must be held accountable,' said Mr William.
Mrs Thabet's ordeal led to the Diocese of Minya releasing a statement demanding justice. The attack subsequently drew condemnation from the government and Al Azhar, Cairo's ancient centre of Islamic learning.
'We have people getting killed and there is no one answering for it, money stolen, houses looted, girls kidnapped ... and we bear it all and let it pass, but now there is escalation,' Bishop Makarios, the highest Coptic church official in Minya, told Reuters by telephone.
'We get told, take reconciliation because it is better for you than other bad scenarios and people are simple and just want to live in peace, but this time people won't have it.'
Neighbours who witnessed the incident told Reuters it took place on May 20, when a group of Muslim men set fire to seven Christian homes and stripped the grandmother naked in the street after rumours of her son Ashraf's inter-faith affair.
Ashraf fled with his wife and children on May 19 after receiving threats, said Mr William. His parents went to the police, fearing for their lives, said Ishak Ibrahim of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. The mob burned down their house the next day, Ibrahim and several local residents said.