In News & Reports

By Nader Shukry – Watani

Sohag Copts

Efforts to persuade the Muslim villagers of al-Naghameesh in Dar-as-Salam, Sohag, some 450km south of Cairo, to allow the village Copts to practise their religious rites have so far failed.

In line with the efforts of the local politicians to resolve the sectarian tension in Naghameesh, meetings were held with the village Muslims by the Sohag branch of Beit al-Aila (Family Home), a council sponsored by al-Azhar—the topmost Islamic authority in Egypt—and formed of Muslim and Coptic clergy and prominent laity to abort or deflate sectarian strife. A source from Naghameesh said that the meetings aimed at explaining to the village Muslims concepts of tolerance and the rights of Christians to pray. Yet nothing could make the Muslim villagers budge from their stance of rejecting the right of Copts to worship in a building which they used as a village church under the name of Mar-Girgis, St George. They insisted their village was a ‘Muslim’ village in which no church could exist. They adhered to the Islamic thought that insists no church may be built in the Land of Islam. [] This means the Mar-Girgis church remains closed till legal proceedings on the part of the Copts could allow it to be re-opened.

Attack against Copts
The story goes back to 25 November when fanatic Muslims in Naghameesh attacked the Copts in the village on rumour that they were opening a church. A guesthouse owned by Ihab Tamer, a Coptic doctor, was burned, the façades of 10 Coptic-owned houses were damaged, and a house and shop owned by Ishaq Hanna were plundered and looted. The attackers cut the road so that the fire trucks could not enter the village; they also cut off the water and power supply to the village. The Copts called the police who arrived, surrounded the village, and dispersed the attackers.

Naghameesh includes a 2000-strong Coptic population who had built a four-storey building to serve as a community centre that housed a children’s pre-school nursery and a home for the aged. They also used it for prayers, since the village includes no church; the nearest is in the town of al-Kosheh 8km away. With the passage of the new law for building churches last August, Naghameesh Copts applied for legalisation of the community centre church, but this has yet to gain approval.

The village priest, Father Macarius, had asked Anba Wissa Metropolitan of Kosheh, Dar-as-Salam and al-Balyana, to preside over Mass held in memorial of the priest’s father on Tuesday 22 November, and Anba Wissa graciously accepted. Even though the Bishop met the village mayor and presented him with a copy of the Qur’an, the Muslim villagers thought he had come to open a church. They gathered after Friday noon prayers and waged their attack.

What hazard?
Governor of Sohag Ayman Abdel-Moniem and Mustafa Muqbel, Chief of Security of Sohag, headed to the village where they inspected the situation. Governor Abdel-Moniem ordered that the ruined guesthouse should be repaired at the expense of the governorate, and promised that justice would be served. Twenty-nine suspects were caught, but the prosecution released 15 of them and is investigating the other 14.

The church in Naghameesh was closed under the pretext of its constituting a security hazard if re-opened.
Anba Wissa said during a meeting with local MPs that all what the Copts in the village of Naghameesh wanted was to practise their religious rites. This, he said, was a basic human and citizenship right. As such, he insisted, it was non-negotiable. “We can’t understand what ‘hazard’ Christian prayers constitute?” he said.

MPs Tareq Radwan and Gaber al-Touequi had gone to Dar-as-Salam to follow up on the sectarian attack that took place Friday 25 November against the Copts of Naghameesh. During their meeting with Anba Wissa, he reminded them that the status of the church in Naghameesh should now be legalised according to the new law for building churches, which was passed last August.

Sohag Copts: All we want is to pray

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