EGYPT: Coptic Christian student murdered by classmates for wearing cross

Christian student Ayman Nabil Labib (17), a pupil at a school in Mallawi in Minya province in upper Egypt, was murdered on 16 October 2011. His parents said that he was murdered in “cold blood because he refused to take off his cross as ordered by his Muslim teacher”.

In a video interview with the NGO Copts United, Ayman’s father Nabil Labib said that his son had a cross tattooed on his wrist as per Coptic tradition, as well as another cross which he wore under his clothes.

Both parents confirmed that Ayman’s classmates said that while he was in the classroom he was told to cover up his wrist cross. Ayman refused and defiantly got out the second cross from under his shirt. “The teacher nearly choked my son and some Muslim students joined in the beating,” said his mother.

According to Ayman’s father, eyewitnesses told him that his son was beaten in the classroom: “They beat my son so much in the classroom that he fled to the lavatory on the ground floor, but they followed him and continued their assault. When one of the supervisors took him to his room, Ayman was still breathing. The ambulance transported him from there dead, one hour later.”

Two Muslim students, Mostapha Essam and Walid Mostafa Sayed, were arrested and detained pending investigations. Prosecution has three witnesses: two men working at the school, who named the assailants; and one student who wanted to retract his statement, but was refused. Ayman’s father said that the head of detectives on the case tried to influence the witnesses, claiming that the murder took place as a result of friction between students.

“They are afraid of the school administration”

Ayman’s father said that everyone in Mallawi knew how the event took place, but not one of the students’ parents was prepared to let their child come forward and give a statement to the police. “They are afraid of the school administration, which has lots of ways to harass the students, as well as being afraid of the families of the two Muslim killers,” he said. “I insist that the Arabic teacher, the headmaster, and the supervisors should be charged as well as the two students who committed the crime. The Arabic language teacher incited the students to attack my son, the headmaster would not go to the classroom to see what was going on there when alerted to the beatings, but rather asked to be left alone and continued sipping his tea, and the supervisors failed in their supervising duties.”

The governor of Minya visited the Coptic Bishop Dimitrious of Mallawi to extend his condolences, accompanied by representatives of Minya military authorities. He suspended the school’s headmaster and the two supervisors, as well as two social workers who were on duty when Ayman died, and referred them to an investigation committee. However, all of them have disappeared since then.

After Ayman’s funeral, over 5000 Christians marched along the streets of Mallawi, denouncing the killing of a student whom they described as “Martyr of the Cross,” and the repeated killings of Copts in Egypt.

Prominent columnist Farida El-Shobashy, writing in independent newspaper Masry Youm, criticised the Ministry of Education for neglecting the education syllabus to prevent discriminatory contents but instead “left it to teachers to spread the fanatic Wahabi ideology”.

The Egyptian media portrayed the incident as non-sectarian, describing it as an altercation between Muslim and Christian students over a classroom seat, leading to the murder of a Christian student. However, Coptic news website Copts Without Borders refuted this version. “We wanted to believe the official version,” said activist Mark Ebeid, “because the Coptic version was a catastrophe, as it would take persecution of Christians also to schools”. (Assyrian International News Agency)