Ayman Nabil Labib, a 17-year-old Christian, was murdered by Muslim classmates after refusing to remove a crucifix he was wearing, according to reports in the Egyptian daily newspaper al-Masry al-Youm, the Assyrian International News Agency and National Review magazine.
Labib died in the central Egyptian town of Mallawi after a teacher asked the high school student to cover up a tattooed cross on his wrist. Labib refused, instead uncovering a cross necklace.
“The teacher nearly choked my son, and some Muslim students joined in the beating,” Labib’s father told AINA.
“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,” the victim’s mother told the news agency. “When one of the supervisors took him to his room, Ayman was still breathing. The ambulance transported him from there dead, one hour later.”
Prosecution arrested and detained two Muslim students, Mostapha Essam and Walid Mostafa Sayed, pending investigations in the murder case.
The father told AINA that not one of the parents of the students who witnessed the killing was prepared to let their children come forward and give a statement to the police. “They are afraid.”
“Egypt’s new anti-discrimination law — hastily announced by the transitional government in the wake of an international outcry over the October 9 killing of 27 mostly Coptic protestors in Cairo’s Maspero district — is being put to the test,” writes Kurt J. Werthmuller in National Review magazine. “The brutal murder of a teenage Christian student in southern Egypt on October 16 illustrates the ongoing threat that Egypt’s Christian minority faces from growing religious extremism, including within its public school system, and the discriminatory denial of justice in cases involving religion.”
Ayman’s classmates claim that his Arabic-language teacher, Usama Mahmud Hasan, began insulting and harassing the teenager during class on October 16. He reportedly told Ayman to wipe off the cross from his wrist where, like the majority of members of the Coptic Orthodox community, he had a small tattoo of a traditional Coptic cross. When Ayman responded that the cross was a tattoo and therefore impossible to remove, and added that under his shirt he was also wearing a necklace with a cross, the teacher became incensed. Witnesses report that he turned to the other students and asked, “What are we going to do with him?”
According to classmates, two fellow students, Mustafa Walid Sayyid and Mustafa Hasanayn ‘Issam, were prompted by Hasan’s words and began to strike Ayman. Then they led a group of about 15 students in eventually chasing Ayman as he struggled to escape, finally cornering him in a bathroom. At that point, two school supervisors, Tahir Husayn and Muhammad Sayyid, reportedly forced Ayman into a teacher’s room, which provided the assailants with privacy. There the group murdered Ayman: His body allegedly showed marks of strangulation and having received a heavy blow to the head with a sharp object. His death certificate only specifies “a severe loss of circulatory and respiratory functions” as the cause of death, adding that “the condition is under investigation.”
Egyptian authorities initially responded by questioning the two student ringleaders, Sayyid and ‘Issam, and subsequently charging them with murder. The governor of al-Minya, the local police chief, and officials from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (the ruling military authority, or SCAF) also visited Ayman’s family, who were receiving visitors at the office of the Coptic Orthodox bishop after their son’s funeral.
However, the teacher, Hasan, who incited the attack, and the supervisors, Husayn and Sayyid, who actively abetted the murders and may themselves have had a direct hand in the lethal violence, have not been arrested. These adults, who are public employees and whose actions led to Ayman’s death, have so far gotten off scot-free.
“I was shaken to the bones when I read the news that a teacher forced a student to take off the crucifix he wore, and when the Christian student stood firm for his rights, the teacher quarreled with him, joined by some of the students; he was beastly assaulted until his last breath left him,” writes columnist Farida El-Shobashy wrote in the Egyptian daily newspaper al-Masry al-Youm.
The columnist wondered if the situation was reversed and a Muslim was killed for not removing the Koran he wore, what would have been the reaction.