HER NIGHTMARE was triggered by false rumors of an affair between her married son and a married Muslim woman. After 50 years of living quietly in the Egyptian village of Kom Lofi—some 180 miles south of Cairo—Souad Thabet, a 70-year-old Coptic woman, became the victim of an angry mob of Muslims out to punish her for her son’s alleged transgression of conservative Muslim mores. Her life would be changed forever. Still trembling with fear and sorrow over the tragedy that befell her and her family, Mrs. Thabet tells her story:
“It was Friday, May 20, 2016. After we learned from people in the village that the family of the Muslim woman wanted to burn down our house, I went to the police station to ask for protection and file a report. That evening a mob came to our house; they assaulted my 81-year-old husband, looted the house and damaged it.
“I went back to the police station to file another report, but one of the officers shouted at me: ‘You are a liar and want to ignite sectarian strife in the village.’ After I told him that everything in the house had been ransacked, he asked me: ‘Do you want back what was stolen and have those people kill your sons?’ I feared for the lives of my sons and did not file a police report. Instead, I asked God to compensate me.
“It was a few hours later, when a mob of some 300 people came to our home, broke in and beat up my old husband. I screamed in terror. Four of the assailants pulled my hair, stripped me completely naked, and dragged me down the street—without anyone intervening to defend me.
“I tried to flee into a neighbor’s home where the door was open; my neighbor locked the door behind me and gave me a jalabiya [a traditional garment in Upper Egypt] to wear. Meanwhile, the angry mob was banging on the door, trying to get it in. I was taken to the roof of the house, from where, using a wooden ladder, I made it to another nearby house.
“But the mob knew I was hiding in another home. Angry villagers destroyed the home owner’s motorcycle and his horse-drawn cart. Then they threw a Molotov cocktail at the house. While this neighbor was trying to extinguish the fire, I felt paralyzed with fear and could not move.“The neighbor’s wife hid me on the roof in the chicken coop; from that spot, I looked on as the mob burned down six Christian homes. Finally, at yet another neighbor’s home, I waited for the police to arrive.
“Meanwhile, the mob also attacked the wife of my son Awni, stripping her of her clothes, dragging her down the stairs and throwing her onto the floor in front of her children. The attackers even beat up the children and were preparing to throw them into the fire that was set. A neighbor begged them not to kill the children.
“A Muslim neighbor took off his own clothes and gave them to my daughter-in-law after the aggressors had stripped her naked. The man hid her inside his house after she managed to escape the mob, although they chased her and broke into her rescuer’s home. Her husband Awni had already fled because the mob was determined to kill him. The body of my daughter-in law was full of wounds and still there are signs of beatings and violence all over her body.
“After everything calmed down, my family and I made our way to a neighboring village. After a few days, Minya Bishop Anba Makarios took us to a house owned by the Church, where we stayed for about two months
“After many delays and efforts by prosecutors to drop the case altogether, next April 16  is set as the day when prosecutors will make the final decision whether to prosecute the attackers. I feel a great sense of injustice; we have been attacked, robbed of all our money, our house was looted, burned; they fabricated a case of adultery to accuse my son and to pressure us not to pursue charges. Meanwhile, our attackers are walking around free.
“The murders committed by ISIS in Iraq and Syria may be more merciful than the humiliation and shame I feel now. My son’s wife refused to file a lawsuit because she feels so ashamed of what happened to her. She and her husband work as a teachers and she doesn’t want to attract media attention. The family has left the village and moved to Cairo.
We are have been threatened with more violence if we don’t give up the case. We are now living in the village of Manhri, in a house that Bishop Makarios helped us get. I no longer feel safe and I am terrified for the safety and future of my grandchildren and sons. Fear keeps me up late every night. I want my children and grandchildren to leave Egypt.
Suoad’s younger son, Ashraf, believes that what happened to the family was fueled by envy of the fact that he and his brother Awni were successfully trading in electrical devices, while the rest of the village was poor. The charge of adultery against Ashraf—tellingly filed several weeks after the May 20, 2017 attacks—was brought without the gathering of any forensic evidence or the testimony of four adults, as the law requires. Like his mother, Ashraf is convinced that the charge of adultery only serves to pressure his mother to drop her lawsuit.
Meanwhile, Bishop Makarios—who escaped an attempt on his life in 2013—is facing hostility on the part of Minya government officials because of his steadfast support of the family in pursuing the lawsuit.