Egypt's President Approves 17 Year-old Church Building Permit

(AINA) -- President Mohamed Morsi issued a decree yesterday allowing the building of a new church in city of New Nubaria, in Beheirah province, the first such decree of his presidency. The 300 square meter church will be called Church of Apostles Peter and Paul. The Coptic Orthodox church applied for permission to build a church in Nobaria 17 years ago.

The Church's spokesman thanked the President for his decree, while Copts had a different reaction raising suspicion as to its timing.

Dr. Naguib Gabrielil, head of Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organization (EUHRO) criticized the church for giving thanks and said that this does not reflect the opinion of Egypt's Copts, as building a church a right guaranteed by the Constitution and the law and the president should not be thanked for doing his duty for his citizens. He added that "this decree came 30 months after the Revolution and just a couple of weeks before the planned June 30 Rebel Demonstrations and is only an attempt to woo the Copts, so as not to provide support for rebel movement which is gaining supporters in the millions and is demanding through its forthcoming demonstration" early presidential election to get rid of Egypt's rule of the Muslim Brotherhood." He pointed out that there are still 149 church building permits still pending.

Sherif Ramzy, founder of Copts Without Chains, said the Presidential Decree reflects the extent of the injustice suffered by the Copts to exercise their religion, due to the restrictions imposed on the construction and renovation of churches, requiring a decision by the highest authority in the country, as well as security and administrative approvals, which take many years. He pointed out that there are dozens of churches and affiliated services buildings which are closed for security reasons in different parts of Cairo and other governorates, which Copts have repeatedly demanded to be opened for prayer after the revolution of January, to no avail.

He added that the presidential decree to build a church in Nobaria was the last step, which culminated 17 years of relentless pursuit to get official approval to build in this area. But fear of religious intolerance and the threat of sectarianism remains a threat to delay the start of construction or stop it completely at any time. Ramzy also believes that the June 30 demonstrations were behind this presidential decree.

Andrawes Aweidah, general coordinator of the Coptic Maspero Youth Union, regarded the resolution as "courting the Copts before the demonstrations on June 30," saying that the decision does not make sense, especially as the President did nothing to protect the churches that already exist, and did not take action on the attack on the Coptic St Marks Cathedral in April (AINA 4-7-2013). Rights groups say that in only one week in May five church attacks were recorded.

A massive fire broke out at dawn on May 20 at the Church of the Virgin in Tama, Sohag governorate, which led to the destruction of entire contents of the church, and power outages in the region. The fire resulted in the collapse of large parts of the church, in addition to fires breaking out in 4 neighboring houses. Some people suffered from suffocation, while participating in the fire extinction.

Although police investigation said that the fire was caused by an electrical fault, Copts accused unknown persons of torching the church. The church priest said that the fire broke out suddenly in all parts of the three-storey high church, insinuating that the fire was caused by arson (video).

Two days later, on May 22, fire broke out in the Church of Saint Abu Fam in Tama. The son of the priest said that the Coptic youth were working on clearing the torched St. Mary's church when they heard that a fire broke out in in Abu Fam church, so they hurried there and put out the fire before the fire brigade arrived. The police believe that the fire was caused by an electrical fault, reported Copts United.

On May 17 hundreds of Muslims armed with automatic weapons, Molotov cocktails and bricks attacked the Virgin Mary's church and the homes and shops of Coptic Christians in El Dekheila district, west of Alexandria. The church was partly burned, one Copt was shot dead, and dozens of Christians seriously wounded by lead bullets and bird shots. The reason for this attack was allegedly a Copt was seen looking out of his balcony at a flat occupied by a Muslim woman (AINA 5-18-2013).

On May 13, in the village of Menbal, Matay, in the Upper Egyptian province of Minya , a Muslim mob stormed the village church of Prince Tadros el-Mashreki and assaulted a person inside. They hurled stones and broke everything inside the church, including doors and windows. The mob then went along the streets looting and destroying all Coptic-owned businesses and pharmacies and torching cars. The Copts were also threatened to be expelled from the village. According to witnesses, any Copt who was met by the mob in the street was beaten up.

The attack began when some Muslims went to the village of Manshiet Menbal and threw plastic bags filled with urine at Coptic girls coming out of church. This started a fight, but the Muslims were outnumbered by the Copts, who make up the majority of the village. Muslims left and retaliated at the Copts who are a minority at Menbal village, 10 kilometers away. 6 Muslim perpetrators were arrested, but prosecutors released them after 24 hours on bail of only 300 Egyptian pounds (AINA 5-18-2013).

Minya was also affected by incidents of fires breaking out in churches. On May 30th the Church of Amir Tadros el-Shatby had a fire during the evening prayers, causing panic among the congregation. Church banks and curtains were burned. Civil protection forces and security authorities extinguished the fire before it engulfed the whole church. Authorities said that the fire was caused by an electrical fault.

By Mary Abdelmassih

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