Erroneous report on Dutch tv about Marinab starts playing nasty role in Egyptian politics

Posted on | december 16, 2011 | 1 Comment

Mar Girgis, Marinab

The above is a remarkable report on the events in El Marinab (near Edfu) on 30 September that led to the march on 9 October from Shubra to Maspero. Which in turn ended in bloody repression leaving 24 people dead and many wounded. The report was broadcasted on Dutch public television on Saturday, November 26 and the maker is a roving Dutch reporter by the name of  Lex Runderkamp, who was recently turned into a ´Special Middle East reporter´ by his bosses of Dutch NOS-tv, after having reported earlier from Libya about the events that led to the overthrow and death of Kadhafy. 

 As is clear from the video, Runderkamp, who stayed two days in Marinab, reached the remarkable conclusions that the church in Marinab that was supposedly set on fire, was not a church, that there live almost no Copts in Marinab (only some 25, according to him), that the Copts in Marinab did not have a proper permission to renovate or expand the building, and that it was not clear who ignited the fire. Under the motto ´things are not always what they seem to be´, he in fact suggested that it had been the Copts themselves who set fire to the building.

His report miraculously concurred in many ways with the things the governor of Aswan, Mustafa Al-Sayed, who is responsible for Marinab, said on the question. Like Runerkamp Al-Sayed, who sided with the Muslims in the conflict, denied that the church was a church, he also said that there live only a handful Copts in Marinab and he said that the Christians did not have a permit for the renovation of the building. The only thing in which El-Sayed differed with Runderkamp, was that he did not deny, that it was the Muslims who started the brawl. His refusal, however, to let the Copts continue the work on the church led to a sit-in of several days in Aswan of some 1500 angry Copts, which was followed by the protest in Cairo on 9 October. 

Maybe Runderkamps report would not have been worth further comment, had it not en for the fact that the video of  the broadcast, as can be seen above, has been picked up by Salafists-  and other Egyptian media as can be seen here – to show that the whole story in Marinab was just another of those Christian conspiracies.

Here in Holland Runderkamp´s report had mainly the ffect that it raised some eyebrows, as it went against all logic and all that people thought they knew. about the question. And apart from that there was some serious opposition, initially only from the blogosphere, later on also from some Christian circles. Particularly blogger Jan Dirk Snel was very detailed in his criticism, not only quoting the excellent piece that Sherry al-Gergawi wrote in Al-Ahram Online, but also – as it happened -  another Dutchman living in Cairo, Cornelis Hulsman, who went with a pupil to El-Marinab one day after the events there, and who´s  organisation, ArabWest, published a detailed report about what happened. Snel succeeded in getting some attention from other media, forcing Runderkamp to reply.  The NOS-reporter however stuck to his version on his blog, during a radio interview, and in a second blog post, where he wrote:

Were Muslims responsible for the arson, as everyone assumes? Six judges from Cairo researched the facts  in Al Marinab in October (Commission Omar Marawan). The commission concludes that it is impossible to prove that Muslim villagers set fire to the building. In the first place, according to the commission, because the the little church shows hardly traces of burning! That sounds strange, but check out my video and you´ll see that indeed only clean walls, pillars and floors are visible in the church:

Second, the six judges concluded that the Copts have no corroborating evidence for their claim that Muslims have started the fire. The commission ran into a (Muslim) witness who claimed that he had seen how a Copt set fire to a tire in the building next to the church. The Muslim was even going to help extinguish the fire.

I’m not sure from where Runderkamp got his claims about this commission Marawan. After reading here what Human Rights Watch on October 24 wrote about the findings of a commission that immediately after the events to Marinab had been sent to Marinab, a commission that had been established in May after sectarian violence in Imbaba – in other words: the Commission Omar Marawan:
Background to the Protest: The Burning of Mar Girgis Church in Marinab, Edfu, September 30, 2011

On September 30, a group of Muslim residents in the village of Al Marinab, near the town of Edfu in the south of Egypt, set fire to the Church of St. George (Mar Girgis) as it was undergoing reconstruction, destroying the walls, domes, and columns. Those involved in the attack believed the property was a “rest stop” and that Christians did not have a permit to worship there and objected to the height of a steeple that bore a cross and bell.
However, a cabinet-appointed “Justice Committee,” set up in the aftermath of the earlier sectarian violence in the Cairo district of Imbaba in May, confirmed that local church authorities had a church license for the property, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), which said it examined documents showing the Copts had government permission to build the church.
The local church authorities had met with Muslim residents at the instigation of a security official, and had agreed to lower the height of the building and take down the cross and bell, EIPR said. Before the alterations were complete, however, mobs attacked the church.
Mustafa El Sayed, the SCAF-appointed governor of Aswan governorate appeared to justify the Muslim attack on the grounds that the original building was not a church but a service center for local Christians. The cabinet Justice Committee conducted a fact-finding mission to Edfu and submitted its report to the cabinet on October 4, recommending the governor’s removal, prosecution of people who destroyed the church, and the reconstruction of the church at state expense. No action has been taken in response.

 Seems clear, doesn´t it? The commission concluded that the church was a church, that the Copts had a license, that the Muslims lit the church, that the Governor of Aswan was wrong and should have been replaced and that the culprits should have been punished. Runderkamp just lied a couple things together in order to save his skin. He´d done better thought a tactical retreat or whatever. I must say I find it incredible. What are these people thinking at public NOS-tv? Is this racism? Dutch television knows better than the primitive, little brown Egyptians? Total lack of understanding of how it works in Egypt? Plain stubbornness? It´s outrageous. Anyway, Dutch tv is not going to rectify its blunder, and least of all Lex Runderkamp himself. Maybe someone in Egypt should take up the matter??

Perhaps – as a kind of a Postscript – some comments on how this could happen. How Runderkamp could have been misled. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), an Egyptian human rights organisation which was already entioned above, followed sectarian clashes in Egypt during many years. In a report on sectarian violence between 2008 and 2010, in which it doccumented 53 cases, the EIPR described the way the Interior Ministry in Egypt in such cases usually proceeds. EIPR´s description explains why those involved -  it victims as well as perpetrators - after clashes most of the time are not really motivated anymore to be too explicit about what exactly had happened.

Imposing quiet is the goal of the Ministry of Interior in all incidents of sectarianviolence, and this is often done against the will of the parties involved in the clashes.In order to achieve this goal, the Interior Ministry often takes a series of routine—and illegal—measures. Sectarian violence often ends in a reconciliation meetingsponsored by the Interior Ministry and brought about by the use of all means ofpressure it possesses, both legitimate and illegitimate. The end objective is to restorethe situation to the status quo, as if nothing has happened.49. The direct intervention of the Interior Ministry—which can be rapid in some cases ortake hours in others—usually involves the use of excessive violence by police forcesto disperse crowds, even when they are peacefully assembling and even if they areassemblies organized by victims protesting assaults on them. Indeed, EIPRresearchers have documented cases in which policemen themselves are involved inviolence against Christians and attacks on their property. Such was the case in theevents in Izbat Bushra al-Sharqiya, located in the Fashn district of Beni Soueif, on 21June 2009. A number of testimonies collected and corroborated by EIPR researchersstated that security personnel were involved in breaking into Christian homes andsmashing their property. In Saft al-Laban, in the Boulaq al-Dakrour area of Giza, on13 May 2009, some victims said that policemen were vandalizing the property ofChristians while arresting them inside their homes.50. In cases of sectarian violence, the police are unable and sometimes unwilling tointervene to protect the homes and property of Copts, particularly in attacks thattake the form of collective retribution and involve large numbers of Muslims. Insome cases this may be due to the fact that the assailants outnumber security forces,making the latter fearful of engaging them and risking losses in their own ranks. Aclear example of the inability or unwillingness to engage is seen in the violence thattook place in Dayrout in the Assyout governorate on 24 October 2009. In that case,the violence began at 10:30 am and security forces refrained from intervening until 3pm, leaving Muslims free for five hours to attack five churches and numerouspharmacies and shops. The same happened in Shouraniya, located in the Maraghadistrict of Sohag, from 28 to 31 March 2009, when local Muslims attacked the homesand property of their Egyptian Baha’i neighbors. As a result of police inaction, five-19-Baha’i-owned homes were burned nearly to the ground. This has been repeated inseveral other instances of sectarian violence. 

So send troops in, forces all parties to remain calm. Initiates reconciliation talks – even if the victims do not want that – and puts prssure on all sides to restore the status quo. Runderkamp writes in his second blog post ‘Fire in Coptic church:  the facts’ the following: It’s true that reconciliation talks were held, because it was insufficiently clear who was at fault. The accusations went back and forth. There wasn´t any complaint deposited,  not even by the Copts, the lawyer of the Muslim inhabitants said. 
So, apparently, the Egyptian Interior Ministry had been true to its habits. If Runderkamp had had any experience with Egypt,  he would have asked himself why on earth the story of the Copts sounded so unlikely and if it might have been possible that they had been were intimidated with all those Central Security troops still around. But as it is, it´s all too clearc that this is something he hasn´t done.

AUTHOR: Martin Hijmans
E-MAIL: m.hijmans [at]


One Response to “Erroneous report on Dutch tv about Marinab starts playing nasty role in Egyptian politics”

  1. MedianRoad
    december 16th, 2011 @ 14:43

    Actually, the reporting of Lex Runderkamp WAS indeed very accurate and was echoed by the bishop of Aswan himself. There only are 30 Copts there, the building was not a church and through bribery they managed to provide a license that stated it was a Church not only that but Muslim helped build it.
    Sorry, but pressure from Copts living in Europe have changed the story – the Original Story by Lex was the accurate one.

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