Hearing held on December 10, 2013 and chaired by Rep. Chris Smith (NJ)
In a new report released Tuesday, the London-based Minority Rights Group International (MRG) says Egypt’s January 25 Revolution was driven by a demand for greater liberty. But with the increase in insecurity and sectarian violence, the country’s religious minorities are bearing the brunt.
Peace and religious freedom for the Egyptian Copts , the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East . "May all enmity and division forever cease". This was the call this morning from Pope Francis during Mass at Casa Santa Marta concelebrated with the Patriarch of Alexandria of the Catholic Copts , Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak , during the public manifestation of "ecclesiastical communion" with the Successor of Peter.
Egypt's best-known diplomat said Tuesday that the constitution drafted by a panel he chaired provides unprecedented guarantees for democracy and freedoms, but offered cautious criticism of a recent law placing draconian restrictions on street protests.
The Middle East Christian Committee (MECHRIC, al Lijna al Mashriqiya) held its 2013 Leadership Conference in Brussels at the Thon Hotel and at the European Parliament.
Editor’s note: In order to provide more context as to why Copts were protesting in Maspero on Sunday October 9—when the Egyptian military opened fire on them and ran armored vehicles over them—Coptic Solidarity translates from Arabic and publishes the following report chronicling the events before the Maspero Massacre. (See original Arabic text here).
October 1, 2011
By Safwat Samaan Yassa
This is the story of St. George's church in village of Marinab in Edfu, some seventeen kilometers from Aswan governorate.
Contrary to the claims that it was a mere bamboo-built guesthouse, it was an old dilapidated church where Copts held prayers since 1940. Recently, for fear that the church might collapse on their heads while praying, Copts applied to the governorate Civil Engineering Administration asking for permission to carry out restoration work on the church building. Aswan governorate delegated a Civil Engineering Consultants Committee to inspect the church. The committee's report stated that the church building is irreparable, too damaged to pray in and must be replaced and renovated. Aswan governor forwarded the report to the State Commissioners' Body to get their opinion. The State Commissioners' Body issued a decree whereby they gave their approval to the replacement and renovation of the church. Hence, the church architects designed the church building plans and submitted them to Aswan Governorate Engineering Administration who approved them and issued permit number 42 for the month of May, 2011, referring to it as “St. George Church” and not a "guesthouse" as the governor falsely claimed!!
After all permits were obtained, the complete ferroconcrete structure of a two storey church building topped with a dome was completed as per the approved drawings. Sadly, about a month ago, a large Muslim crowd gathered outside the church to demolish it. Aswan security forces were called in and high ranking officials from both the police and the army arrived on site. They ordered a halt to building the church walls, and to cease holding prayers there until a meeting is held to discuss the issue and prevent further escalation. Separate meetings were held on two consecutive days, first with the objecting villagers then with the Copts of the village. Afterwards, a meeting was organized for both parties together in the presence of General Adel Hosni, Edfu's northern region General in command, Edfu's chief of criminal intelligence office and both the chief and deputy chief of Edfu's police force. A number of Edfu's priests also attended along with the so-called Marinab's Muslims' representatives in charge.
In the meeting, those proclaimed representatives of Marinab's Muslims objected to building the church, claiming that there was no church in Marinab and the Christian population in the village is less than 75 people. The Copts refuted all those claims and produced all the legal documents proving that the church was established since 1940. They also proved that there are at least forty five Coptic families in Marinab which adds up to more than 250 Copts. All attendants acknowledged the authenticity of the documents. Nevertheless, bigotry and fanaticism prevailed and they insisted they would not allow the church to be built. After much deliberation they agreed on four provisos to allow the building of the church—and also to allow Christians to live in peace!
Activist Michael Atalla cited the four provisos set by Muslims as:
1- No church bell is allowed.
2- No external megaphones are allowed.
3- No Cross on the church building.
4- The dome should be demolished and removed permanently.
As all Christians live in the vicinity of the church, Copts submitted to the condition of not putting a bell on the church.
To avoid problems and maintain peace with their neighbors, Copts also agreed not to use any external megaphones and asserted that Christian prayers are usually confined within the walls of the church.
Copts adamantly refused to remove the Cross on top of the church. They insisted that the Cross is at the core of their Christian belief and removing it would simply mean that they agree not to be acknowledged as Christians. After facing a lot of pressure, Christians reluctantly submitted to this diktat as well for fear of escalation that might impede the building works altogether.
Of note is that during the meeting a Sheikh called Habib said that the Cross irritates Muslims and their children. To explain why the Cross irritates Muslims, Sheikh Ibrahim El Azhary said that the Cross offends Muslims and contradicts their Islamic beliefs!
As for the fourth proviso, Copts refused to give in and remove the dome as it meant stripping the building of all traditional architecture features of a church.
The meeting ended and they all shook hands despite the stinging sense of humiliation that the Copts suffered.
Michael Atalla explains: "A few days later, we were shocked when the Engineering Administration personnel arrived at the church building to measure it and verify whether it is in full conformity with the architectural design. A three-meter discrepancy was found in the height of the building and Father Makarius Bolos was served with a height-violation ticket and a warning that the infringement should be removed within two weeks. Edfu Official records of building violations show that the church received violation report number 1/2011—we stress the number 1/2011—as it ironically suggests that there are absolutely no violations in Edfu except that of the church of Marinab! Nonetheless, within four days we removed the extra meters to comply with the rules to the letter."
On September 31st, 2011, Edfu's Intelligence Unit chief attended the Friday prayers at the mosque. After the prayers, more than three thousand Muslims headed for the church. They attacked it and torched the building constructor's timber. A group went to the top of the church and demolished the domes while others set fire to the church library. The flames spread out and consumed some Christian houses around the church. They also started looting and plundering Copts' shops and whatever they couldn't carry they set ablaze. The church signboard which read "St. George Church, Marinab" was removed and destroyed.
The rampage started from two in the afternoon until seven in the evening and the security forces that arrived to the scene were either unable or unwilling to end it. The priests and laity appealed to the chief of Aswan security, to the national security and to all leaderships they could get in touch with, to intervene but to no avail. Moreover, when the fire engines arrived, the mob blocked their path until the fire consumed everything.
Appeals were made to the Military Council and the Prime Minister to rescue the Christian families who still live in Marinab in utter terror. Those who fled the village, their homes were looted and scorched.
It is worth noting that Aswan governor said in an interview on Modern TV: "Copts made a mistake and had to be punished, and Muslims did nothing but set things right, end of story".
May God help Egypt; those bent on burning the country are acting vigorously while his Excellency the governor denies it and claims that everything is fine!
Chairman of the Homeland without Boundaries Centre for Human Development.
Coptic Solidarity is a U.S. public charity organization under section 501 (C) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Contributions are deductible under Section 170 of the Code.