Anba Wissa, Metropolitan of Kosheh, Dar-as-Salam and al-Bayana, in Sohag some 450km south of Cairo, said during a meeting with local MPs that all what the Copts in the village of Naghameesh wanted was to practise their religious rights. This, he said, was a basic human and citizenship right. As such, he insisted, it was non-negotiable.
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.
Fanatic Muslims in the village of al-Naghameesh in Sohag, had attacked the Copts in the village on Friday 25 November, 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, 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 prayers and waged their attack.
Governor of Sohag, Ayman Abdel-Moniem; and Mustafa Muqbel, Chief of Security of Sohag, also 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 has been closed for security reasons since the attack against the Copts took place.
In line with the efforts of the local politicians to resolve the sectarian tension in Naghameesh, meetings have been 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.
4 December 2016