Sit-in in Assiut

15-12-2011 10:12 AM

Basma William-Nader Shukry

Some 30 monks from the Muharraq monastery of the Holy Virgin in Assiut are staging a sit-in at the grounds of the palace of Habib Doss, which lies in one of Assiut’s main streets. The sit-in began on Tuesday 30 September to demand that the four-feddan land (a feddan is 4,200 square metres of land) on which the palace and three villas are built should be handed over to the monastery which they claim is their rightful owner since 1926. “Back then,” Father Abra’am of Muharraq Monastery told Watani, “the estate had been endowed on the monastery, and the monastery rented out the villas to different tenants and the palace to Habib Pasha Doss. All the tenants had been regularly paying the rent ever since.
“Habib Pasha Doss died in 1947 and his son continued to pay the rent to the monastery. Today his grandson, the renowned liver specialist Wahid Doss. Continues to do so even though he mainly resides in Cairo.
“A Coptic man named Attiya Sedra, commonly known as Attiya, acted as caretaker of the palace during the lifetime of the senior Doss. He married several times and had 16 children, 11 boys and five girls. The Attiyas grew up on the palace grounds and continued to live there even though they later had their own professions such as carpentry and baking. They married and formed their own families but stayed on the estate. Four months ago, Attiya died. He was almost 70 years old.”
According to Fr Abra’am, it appears that some real estate investors incited the Attiyas to claim the palace was theirs. Obviously, once the Attiyas could be in possession of the palace—which is built over 500 square metres of land—the investors could buy it off from them. They tempted the Attiyas with some EGP17 million and EGP3 million in legal fees to be paid to the lawyer Ahmed Abu-Lifa who has built himself a reputation in real estate cases, to claim they had a right to the palace they had always lived around. The Attiyas claimed that the senior Doss had willed the land to them as a gift to their father. “But this is impossible,” Fr Abra’am said, “Since an endowment cannot be disposed of by a tenant. Moreover, the palace is listed as an antiquity.”
The monastery made several complaints to the authorities but, when there was no official response whatsoever, decided to stage a sit-in in the palace garden, and there they remain. They have asked for the help of rights groups and vow not to give up the property which was endowed on the monastery.
Last Wednesday, the prosecution held a hearing and is expected to issue a verdict today.
Watani talked to Wahid Doss in Cairo. Dr Doss confirmed all what Fr Abra’am said, adding that Attiya had been a very faithful servant, but his grandfather never granted him the palace. “How could someone grant what he does not own?” Dr Doss said. My grandfather was only a tenant in the palace; he was not its owner. Dr Doss believes some greedy investor[s] stands behind the Attiyas who were probably seduced with sums of money. He warned the Attiyas against any attempt to forge his grandfather’s signature, since the senior Doss was member of the Egyptian House of Lords and his signature is very well known.
Muharraq Monastery is famous as a Christian landmark, since it was the last destination of the Holy Family while on its flight into Egypt in the first century.

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