Violence against Copts

Church social services building demolished

The village of Mit Nama in Qalyub, north of Cairo, was the scene of an attack waged by the village Muslims on 28 May during which they demolished the foundations of a building that was to be erected by the bishopric of Shubral-Kheima to house health and social services. The building was to be built on a 1351-square metre plot of land owned by the bishopric and was to serve some 2,000 families in five neighbouring villages. The attack was conducted as the security officials looked on, claiming there was nothing they could do.

In January 2002 Bishop Marqos of Shubral-Kheima, purchased the land with the purpose of constructing a church and a services building to offer health and social services to some 400 families—the population needing the services has today swelled to 2000. The land ownership was officially registered in April 2002, and—since the land lies within an agricultural area, building upon which is absolutely prohibited by law—full clearance for building was obtained from Qalyub Court in May 2003, and the clearance was ratified by the military ruler in December 2003. The bishopric applied to the State Security Apparatus for approval to erect the building, a church and a fencing wall, and attached to its applications all the possible approvals required, approvals from the housing, health, agriculture, irrigation, sanitary drainage, veterinary authorities and Qalyubiya governorate.

Despite the Church’s incessant efforts—it had to re-apply for the approval in 2004 and again in 2007—it was only in May 2010 that an approval was granted, and then it was only to build a fencing wall to protect the land against infringements. In November 2008, a Muslim man called Sobhy Seilam attempted to seize the land, an action which prompted Coptic demonstrations at the time, and the land was returned to the Church. As for the services building and the church, the applications to build them were rejected “for security purposes”.

Indifference of Security Police to attacks on Church

Father Pimen, priest of Mar Girgis and Anba Abra’am Church in the neighbouring village of Mantai, told Watani that, on Monday 24 May the Church began laying the foundation of the fencing wall, under the watchful eye of the security forces. Three days later, a rumour circulated in Mit-Nama that an attack was being planned by the Muslim villagers on Friday, following noon prayers. “We, in turn,” Fr Pimen said, reported this to the security authorities who simply replied that everything was under control, and that they were aware of the rumours. But they asked us to have no construction work on the land on Friday.
“Following Friday prayer, groups of Muslim men marched towards the land, shouting jihadi slogans, and began demolishing the foundation, filling them with earth using their bare hands. The security forces merely looked on.  “More people joined in until there were some 500 men, women, and even children taking part. They raised two banners on the land, one carried the Islamic testimony of ‘There is no God but Allah, and Mohamed is His Prophet’, while the other declared in bold letters ‘By hook or by crook, this building will be pulled down to the ground’. MPs Ahmed al-Banna and Eid Salem, arrived at the scene but could not stop the violence.”

Meanwhile, Fr Pimen said, the villagers got in a bulldozer to help demolish the foundations. They ruined all the work we had done. Since the land lies on the border of the ring road and the railway track, the security forces refused to take any action, claiming that an infuriated mob may block the highway or the railway. When they were through with their work, the mobsters held afternoon prayers on the land.“Before they hold the evening prayer,” Fr Pimen said, “we asked the security officials to put an end to the farce. By 7:00pm, the situation was finally under control.”

Bishop Morqos said that the church of Mar-Girgis and Anba Abra’am in the village of Mantai, which already serves some 1200 families of the village congregation, also serves the 2000-families strong village of Mit Nama. Hence the dire need for a new church. As for the services building, it should be of benefit to all the population of Mit-Nama since its healthcare, education, and social services will be offered to Muslims and Christians alike. The security authorities asked Anba Morqos to halt all construction till the Shura Council elections were over. “The resolution of the problem is now in the hands of the security authorities,” he said. “We will wait and see.”

Domestic crisis used as excuse for murder

Camelia Shehata, the wife of a Coptic priest in Deir Mawas in Minya Governorate unwittingly become the excuse for militant Iaslamicists to attack Christians across the Middle East.

When the Al-Qaeda group operating in Iraq, which calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), stormed Our Lady of Deliverance Syrian Catholic church in Baghdad on Sunday, 31 October 31, killed 58 Christians, before themselves being killed and blowing themselves up they claimed it was in retaliation for the detention of Camelia, who they claimed had converted to Islam but was being held against her will in a Coptic monastery by the Coptic church of Egypt.

Camelia Shehata, wife of Father Tedaos Samaan, disappeared from her home on 19 July, resulting in Coptic demonstrations against State Security for refusing to help her husband find her. According to the official version by State Security, there had a domestic quarrel and she left home, staying with one of her relatives in Cairo. The State Security Police found her five days later and returned her to the family, but not wishing to go back to her husband, she stayed with her 18-month-old son in a house for women belonging to the church.

Some days later a rumour circulated by a fundamentalist shaikh claimed that Camelia had converted to Islam and as they were on their way to Al-Azhar to authenticate her conversion, Camelia was taken by State Security. Muslim TV satellite channels were calling for her return to Islam and demonstrations were held in front of mosques calling for her freedom from her ‘captivity’ accusing Pope Shenouda of holding her hostage. Although she later appeared on a video confirming that she was a Christian and never thought of converting to Islam and Al-Azhar also denied she ever been there, the demonstrations continued. Even though Hamdi Zakzouk, the Minister of Endowment, during a lecture at Cairo University on 2 November, asserted that Camelia never converted to Islam or went to Al-Azhar this failed to stop the fundamentalist demonstrations which called for the return of “our Muslim sister.”

According to several Coptic sources, Egyptian State Security has ordered that no one should see Camelia, and it was State Security who arranged for a video of her to be taken and distributed two months ago. When Muslims said it was not her on the video, state security issued a statement and ordered national TV stations to air it to confirm it was Camelia.

Pope Shenouda described the Baghdad church massacre as “something that logic and conscience cannot accept.”

Christian Homes attacked on Muslim Feast

A mob of nearly 1,000 attacked Coptic homes and businesses in the village of el-Nowahed, Abu-Tesht, in Qena Province, on 15 November causing some 25,000 Egyptian pounds worth of damage.

At 10:00 p.m. a large mob of Muslims from el-Nowahed and the surrounding villages besieged and waged their attack amidst cries of “Allah is the greatest” and other Islamic Jihadist slogans. They threw fireballs, gasoline and stones at Coptic houses and detonated Butane gas cylinders. Some twenty-two Coptic-owned homes two commercial shops, a bakery, as well as livestock were burned. Terrorized Copts were hiding on the roof tops of their homes, afraid to venture in the streets, could only cry out: “help us, save us, they are burning us.” Security forces were able to impose order a few hours later, and a curfew was imposed on el-Nowahed village and the city of Abu-Tesht.

The violence was the result of a rumour circulating in the town three days earlier, about an affair between 19-year-old Copt Hossam Noel Attallah and a 17-year-old Muslim girl, Rasha Mohamed Hussein, a relative of the village mayor. According to Bishop Kyrillos of Nag Hamadi, some witnesses saw the teenage couple walking together towards the graveyards, after which it was rumoured in the village that he raped her, “although a Muslim woman confirmed that Hossam did nothing wrong to the girl,” he said. A Police report was issued and both were brought before the public prosecutor, after which the young man was detained by State Security, fearing that his release might lead to an escalation of tension. An eyewitness who was himself beaten by Muslims said the mob blocked the fire brigade from reaching the burning homes and one fire engine arrived hours late, reported activist Miriam Ragy. He also said that security forces went into the houses of Copts and arrested them. However, the authorities were criticised for severe inadequacy, because whilst being aware of the incident and the heightened tensions it can cause, they stationed only three security cars at the entrances of the village. When the security officers saw the large mobs entering the village from all sides and attacking it, they fled, leaving it unprotected to operations of terrorism, sabotage, arson and looting of Coptic property. They were also accused of collusion with the offenders, because of their failure to arrest any of the perpetrators whilst chasing Copts and arresting them.

Riots in Giza

Serious rioting occurred in the Omrania district, near to the pyramids at Giza, Cairo’s neighbouring city, when security forces intervened to stop construction at St. Mary and St. Michael Coptic Orthodox  Church in Talbiyah. The building in question was a four-storey building, which had been licensed as a Christian community centre because obtaining a license to build a church is a protracted business. It is reported that the Governor of Giza himself suggested to the Copts to build a centre for community services and then after completion to use it as a church to pray. Copts began construction in the past four months and only the roof was left to complete, without any objection from any one. But the situation changed completely when the Copts started to build the dome as this had a symbolic importance which angered the Muslim fanatics. Bishop Theodosius reported that just three hours before finishing the dome ‘someone’ gave orders to security forces to attack the people at the church construction site.

Earlier, the Omrania local authorities committee came under the pretext of completing the papers for the construction works and found that the builders were building a second staircase, as well as toilets, which they considered to be in violation of the permit granted. In fact it had been the the Civil Defence authorities who asked the church to erect a second staircase to relieve congestion inside the church in case of emergencies and the necessary permit amendments were made. After the local authorities left the church, five priests and the contractor went to their local authority offices in an attempt to solve the problem, but were unsuccessful. After their return, security forces arrived with their vehicles. “When we noticed indications that it was turning into a church, we told the church authorities to halt construction because a church would require a different licence,” Giza’s governor Sayyed Abdel-Aziz was reported as saying. Other sources claim that it was a conflicting decision issued by the Chief of the District to halt construction and remove the irregularities which led to the raisd.

To deal with what at the best might be considered an infringement of building regulations, some 5,000 security forces with over 45 vehicles, cordoned off the site at 3 a.m. on 24 November 2010. They used tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition while workers were working on the roof. Accusations were made that the workers pelted the soldiers with stones but photographic and filmed evidence show quite clearly that local Muslims joined security forces in pelting Copts with stones from under the bridge of the ring road overlooking the Church.

This was the second time within three days that security forces stormed the Church, but this time they successfully entered and occupied the building. According to eyewitnesses, security forces fired tear gas inside the church, where nearly 200 people were keeping vigil, afraid that security might enter and demolish the building. “The forces arrived and told us over the microphone to stop working and leave the church, then they started firing tear gas and rubber bullets,” one of the witnesses said. “They went to church and fired tear gas on women and children who were in church. They ran after us over a quarter of a mile to arrest us.” When the parish priest went out asking them to stop firing tear gas because of the children, they fired one at him injuring his feet.

Two hours later, some 3,000 Copts, outraged by the shootings at the church, many bearing makeshift crosses, descended on the headquarters of the Giza governor where they were met by armed riot police armed with tear gas and rubber bullets. The governor claimed that rioters had tried and failed to storm the building. After the demonstrations had been dispersed, 15 police trucks still surrounded the area around the church and there was heavy security in the neighbourhood. Egypt’s prosecutor general made severe accusations against 156 Christians, which included explosives possession and attempted murder and ordered a renewable 15-day-detention for those arrested. Fifteen police officers were injured in the clashes. However, no one was arrested or charged over the death of one protester, killed after being shot in the thigh according to forensic reports and a second death later. The official figures of the incident were 2 death, 67 wounded and 170 Copts arrested. However, the Coptic Youth Front said in a statement that more than 300 people were wounded and over 1000 detained, including women. According to the statement, many wounded refrained from going to hospital for treatment for fear of being arrested. His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, who has always condemned violence, nevertheless blamed the local authorities for using violence against Christians. “God has given authority to some people to use it for the help of those under their authority,” he said in his weekly lecture at St. Mark’s Cathedral, “Violence leads to violence,” he said warning governors and local authorities against using force to deal with Christian issues.

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