The 4th century desert monastery of Abu Fana in Minya, Upper Egypt, some 240km south of Cairo, has been victim of a recent attempt at encroachment by the ‘Arabs’—Bedouin communities of the nearby desert and villages.
A source at the monastery told Watani that some 25 Arabs broke into the eastern premises of the monastery land, claiming they were in possession of official permits to cultivate that land, but produced no such papers. Since the land is officially an archaeological site in which neither cultivation nor building is permitted, and is also among the premise of the monastery, the monks attempted to persuade the Arabs to leave in peace. But the Arabs, who had already advanced some 200 metres into the land, refused.
The monks hastened to call the police who came in, drove the Arabs out, and uprooted the shrubs they had planted. Three of the Arabs were caught; the others fled as soon as they saw the police approaching. The ones caught were charged with encroachment on an archaeological site and illegally cultivating it.
The conflict between the monks and the Arabs goes years back, with the Arabs waging a number of attacks against the monastery and visitors heading to it. The biggest and bloodiest attack occurred in 2008 when the Arabs assaulted the monastery with gunfire, burned the church, monk cells, and the facilities that housed the small agri-business that supports the monks. They captured four monks whom they brutally tortured and left between life and death. The monks were later treated, and a ‘conciliation’ reached on the matter. The monastery was forced to give up part of its land to the Arabs, and the government agreed to allow it to build a protecting wall around its lands. The wall had to stop at the eastern side, however, which is an archaeological site. The monastery requested permission to extend the wall along that side while offering all legal guarantees that it would not conduct there any illegal activity but would merely secure its grounds against any encroachment, but its petition was turned down.
9 September 2014