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As Egypt's presidential election presents extraordinary challenges, GlobalPost offers this continuing series to shed light on how the country will move forward under its first-ever civilian head of state and how the soon-to-be-drafted constitution will protect civil rights in a new Egypt. 

Coptic Christians endure a painful year in Egypt

A series of deadly attacks in 2011 — most recently the death of a 17-year-old boy — suggest sectarian strife is only getting worse.

discrimination in their daily lives. However, many claim that after the ouster of President Mubarak, violence and hatred towards them have increased substantially. In Mellawi, Copts feel that they are marginalized compared to Muslims. In Upper Egypt particularly, many have complained about the excessive discrimination in the educational system. Arabic teachers specifically, many Copts say, too often distort and insult children because of their Christian faith.  

The year 2011 has been ill-fated for Christians from the beginning. On midnight of the New Year’s Eve service more than 25 people died and many others were injured. After a lengthy investigation, former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly announced that the Palestinian militant wing Hamas was behind those attacks. But the attacks did not stop. More church burnings took place.

Tensions between Muslims and Christians here have boiled over periodically throughout the last few decades, but have increased significantly over the past few years. But many observers say tensions have increased significantly over the past few years. And after the January 25 uprising, the tensions escalated even further. 

There are few facts in Ayman Labib’s case and much confusion over how it happened, but one thing is clear: This family and the mourners surrounding them have joined hands in fear.


For Ayman’s family what started as a peaceful day, by its end, left them devastated by the death of their son and brother who was described by those who knew him as having a bright future ahead of him.

As she walked into his quiet, empty room, Evon began to weep. She grieved more as she stood by Ayman’s bed amid the religious pictures he had posted on his walls and his bookshelves, hundreds of images of the Virgin Mary and Jesus in different sizes. At least 15 images of Jesus hung over his bed at the center of the room. 

Evon recalled the morning of Sunday, October. 16 when she received a call from a friend informing her that she had lost Ayman. Two of his fellow students at Mellawi Secondary School had beaten him to death.

“They dragged him down from his neck and beat him until he died,” she said.

Nabil, Ayman’s father, sat in the makeshift memorial on the street outside his home telling the story of his son’s death. But he stopped when two young men arrived.

Their wrists didn’t bear the blue tattoo of a cross on their wrists, which is a custom for Copts, and the men were taken to be Muslims. When the two sat down not far away from Nabil, other friends and family members expressed the need to go inside their home to speak freely.

Nady Atef, the human rights advocate, tried to interrupt the father’s discussion, accusing him of hiding the truth about the alleged religious motivation for his son’s beating. 

The bed where 17-year-old Ayman Nabil Labib slept.
(Lauren E. Bohn/GlobalPost)

“His son died because of sectarian tension,” Nady said of Nabil.

Nabil asked Nady to stop accusations until the official investigation takes place.  

Two days later, on October 20, two lawyers in Mellawi filed a case against Nady, accusing him of “inciting sectarian tensions” as he was distributing a flyer that referred to the case as “sectarian hate crime” during a recent march in solidarity with Ayman’s family.

One of Ayman’s older brothers, Antonius, who came in late, wept as he remembered Ayman. Another brother, Mina, who was the closest to Ayman said that instead of saving his money, he would spend his money buying gifts for his family. 

Mina added that high school bullying is a common act both within groups of Muslim and Christian students and between them.

“I had Muslims who were my best friends, I do not understand what is the reason behind hatred. Maybe it is the way people are raised,” said Mina.

Ayman also had a 14-year-old brother, Youssef, who is mentally disabled. Watching his family weep over Ayman, he broke his silence as he took a closer position to a GlobalPost reporter