The story of the two children, Nabil and Mina, from Beni Suef has covered the news and been the centre of discussion in several circles in Egypt and abroad. Two innocent children aged nine and ten were detained after being accused of contempt of religion pending an investigation. Outrageous as it sounds, this did actually happen and finally the boys are out, yet the charges have not been dropped and Christians in the poor village of Ezbet Marco are harassed and threatened.
The story begins on 30 September, when a man saw two children playing in a rubbish dump and caught them with what he claims to be pages of the Quran. He accused them of tearing the holy book. He then took them to the priest of the village where the two kids were reprimanded. Despite this, the man went and filed a report against the two children who were then arrested and detained pending an investigation. Tension of course increased as a result and young Muslim men from neighbuoring villages arrived at the Ezbet Marco threatening Christians and according to some reports have closed down the village preventing Christians from leaving to go to work.
As the story unfolds, we discover the two little boys are illiterate. One of boys is a school drop out and the other has never been enrolled in the first place. They didn’t know what they were playing with in the first place. But is this really the issue? Of course not!
One has to contemplate the words of Amr Gharbeia of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights who in a statement said that we are not before a case of contempt of religion, as the accused are children and thus cannot be held legally responsible for such a crime. One needs to question why the prosecutor decided to make a case out of this one based on a report made by just one person leading to tension in the village, the denial of children’s rights and national and international outrage. Secondly, how come we all never asked ourselves, what I believe to be the serious issues? These are: the children are illiterate and have dropped out of school, which in itself is a violation to their right and to the future of this country; the children were playing in a rubbish dump where their health and safety were at risk; only one man was able to turn the events around, threaten a whole community in one village and deny two children their innocent childhood; and finally state institutions following suit without any logic, dealing with these two children as if they are adults to be accused and interrogated for a crime – if we are to consider this a crime – that would need someone in their full mental state.
The statements issued by human rights organisations and pressure exerted by activists for the sake of these two children was rightly done. The amounting pressure to release the children did lead to the presidency intervening. Now the two children are out, even if not with their family or in their homes. They had to be taken elsewhere for their own personal safety.
The situation as a whole reveals to me and to many the fact that we don’t have state institutions in this country. We depend on personalities and power. The prosecutor, who shouldn’t have issued a detention order in the first place, only released the two children after the presidency intervened. Christians in the village are at risk by youth from another village and yet the governor of Beni Suef did not intervene and did not send security to protect the community in the village and prevent any act of violence.
It is clear that we still have a long way to go for us to enjoy a state of institutions in which the law and justice are upheld regardless of courtesy and fear. Two little children were going to be the scapegoat to possibly prevent sectarian tension in a village. When in reality, the man who tried to incite all of this should have been investigated and stopped.
The writer is a columnist at the Egypt-based Daily news, where this article was published on Oct. 9, 2012