Below is a news report from AINA about the latest outbreak in an ongoing conflict between the Copts and the municipal authorities in Giza, a suburb of Cairo. The construction of a new church is underway, for which the Christians say they have the proper permits, but the government has intervened to stop the church from being built.
The trouble started earlier this month, and the persecution only grew more intense after the Copts resisted the government’s actions. What’s interesting about this latest incident is that the Copts have not been cowed, but are staging mass demonstrations and protesting vigorously.
I’ve reposted the entire article below. Click through the original to see the photos:
Egyptian Christians Clash With State Security Forces Over Church Construction
By Mary Abdelmassih
(AINA) — Clashes broke out between Christian protesters and Egyptian security forces over the construction of St. Mary and St. Michael church in Talbiya, within the Omraniya neighborhood of Giza, resulting in the killing of two Copts, hundreds of injuries and the arrest of more than 200 Copts.
Nearly 5,000 security forces with over 45 vehicles cordoned off the church site at 3:00 am on Wednesday November 24, while builders were working on the roof. They used tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition (video of Copts being shot at).
Later on Muslims joined security forces in pelting Copts with stones from under the bridge of the ring road overlooking the Church (Picture enclosed).
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.”
Accoriding to Coptic activist Wagih Yacoub, “Father Karas went out asking them to stop firing tear gas because of the children, so they fired one at him injuring his feet.”
Copts said they were unable to hide inside the church, so security tracked them down in the streets surrounding the church and inside the neighboring houses where they fled. Over 200 Copts were arrested.
Police clashed with Copts at several locations, first at the church construction site in the early hours of the morning, then two hours later when nearly 3000 Copts, angry at the shootings at the church, demonstrated in front of the Giza governorate building, many bearing makeshift crosses, where they were met by armed riot police who fired again tear gas and rubber bullets. The demonstrators broke down two police kiosks, signs and flower pots. They hurled stones at the governorate building.
Coptic demonstrators gathered on top of the bridge of “Mounib” ring road, to denounce the arrest of their colleagues after the riots, which brought traffic to the Pyramids road to a stand still. They were dispersed by security forces.
Failing to reach the Church which the security forced had previously encircled and blocked, nearly 5000 Copts demonstrated outside Mar Mina’s Church in Giza, angry at the treatment of the Copts in Talbiya. Police dispersed the crowds without any incidents.
Dr. Naguib Ghobrial, President of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights, stated that he learnt through reliable medical sources that 93 Copts were in Kasr El-Aini Hospital, all with injuries ranging between bullet holes and eye injuries from explosions. There were reports of limb amputations.
The problem started on November 11, when the authorities wanted to halt the construction of St. Mary’s church although the Copts said they had an official permit. Another clash between security forces and the Copts of St. Mary’s Church occurred on November 22, when the Governor of Giza visited the site and calmed down the congregation by promising the church would be completed upon presenting a new application and provided they did not demonstrate. “This is the answer of the sly government, we get attacked less than two days later,” said a Copt at the Church. “He was buying time to pounce on us at 4.00 AM”
“The state-owned media were not accurate in covering the incident,” said Ebeid, “They followed the statements issued State Security which are all lies. The media filled the pages with how many of the security forces were injured instead of going to the terrorized Copts and reporting on how they were attacked, beaten and hounded in the streets for a minor building offence.”
Coptic protests on this scale are rare in Egypt, but sectarian tensions have risen because of the double-standards employed by then government, when a mosque can be built in one day, while a church takes years to obtain Presidential permission to build. Even after that State Security steps in with some pretext and the new church is closed down.
Human rights groups say attacks on Copts are on the rise, underscoring the government’s failure to address the issue of church building, and the treatment of Christians.
Activist Hossam Bahgat of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights told Reuters “We have been warning about the government’s failure to deal with the rising sense of injustice by the Christian community for a long time. This is an extremely disturbing development.” He added “Today we are talking about security forces using excessive forces with peaceful protesters demanding their constitutional right to freedom of worship.”
Dr. Naguib Ghobrial criticized today’s assault on the church and the congregation — “Just because the back staircase for the church was not built.” He called on Copts not to vote for the NDP, President Mubarak’s governing party, holding it responsible for the persecution of the Copts through its security and executive authorities. He also called for the suspension of Egypt’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council until it fulfills the pledges it made to the Council last February.
Later in the early hours of Thursday November 25, authorities charged 170 Copts with 14 various offenses, including attempted murder of Assistant Security Director of Giza, attacks on the Central Security Forces, attempts to kill officers at police station construction, and vandalizing central security cars, robbery of auto batteries of central security, congregation in violation of the law, riots, and the use of lethal weapons and firearms without a license, not carrying identity cards, and throwing bricks.
It was reported that thirty lawyers are staging a sit-in in front of the Court of Giza for being prevented from attending the investigation with the accused Copts in the Talbiya events. Security imposed a siege on the lawyers to prevent them from entering the court.
Pope Shenouda’s criticized the governorate and regretted that the matter “…reached one death, wounded people and demonstrations. I want the governorate to act with leniency and not with force, because force breeds force.”