The ‘illegitimate neighbour’
Friday afternoon saw hundreds of Muslim villagers in Seresna in Tamiya, Fayoum, attack the village church, hurl stones at it, and set it on fire. Part of the dome fell in, the cross was broken, and the interior of the church and the icons suffered several damages.
Eyewitnesses told Watani that the Salafis in the village urged the villagers to attack the church, claiming that the Muslim villagers should not allow the presence of a church so close to their homes. Before the attack started, the police officers of Tamiya and Seresna attempted to dissuade the Muslims from assaulting the church, and tried to work out some sort of agreement between the Muslims and the local priest, but the attempt did not work. The Muslim villagers left the meeting and started the attack the police stood by.
Hole in the wall
The Seresna church was built in the 1980s and consecrated in the name of Mar-Girgis (St George). It is 200sq.m wide and serves some 180 [extended] Coptic families. The church is adjacent to the house of a Muslim family, the Hussein Kamel clan.
Three months ago, the Kamels bore a hole in the wall between their house and the church, in order to observe what went on in the church. The Copts complained to the authorities, but nothing was done and the hole remained.
Recently, Salafi villagers urged the Kamels to attack the church which was, according to the Salafis, “an illegitimate neighbour that should not be there in the first place.” The mere fact that the electricity metre was in the name of the bishop of Fayoum, Anba Abra’am, was illegitimate, the Salafis said.
The Church offered to buy the adjacent house that belonged to the Muslim family which would then be able to afford a new place far from the church, the ‘illegitimate neighbour’, but the Muslims refused and insisted that the church should move out of the village. The Muslim villagers started harassing the priest, Fr Dumadius, and demanding that he should leave. They widened the hole to one metre in diameter.
It was then that the police officers of Tamiya and Seresna moved to the village and attempted some conciliation between the Muslims and the Copts, but this was unsuccessful and the attack against the church took place.
As more and more villagers joined in the attack, some climbed up the dome and started pulling it down, then set it on fire. Since the dome is a wooden structure, the fire widened the damage. The water cistern on the roof of the church was damaged, and the water flowed into the church through the broken dome, which helped to partially put out the fire. The Copts ran in and managed to put out the fire completely. But the attackers began hurling stones into the church from the part of the dome that had fallen in. Several icons were damaged, as well the furniture inside.
The security officials finally succeeded in persuading the attackers to leave.
At the same time, some villagers attacked Fr Dumadius who suffered slight injuries. The Muslim family of Abdel-Hamid Abdel-Fattah, however, defended him, and escorted him to safety outside the village.
The majority of the Copts in the village kept to their homes for fear of being attacked if they were spotted on the streets.
None of the attackers were caught.
This morning the Tamiya prosecution visited the church to assess the damages.
Once this was done, the village Copts began to clear the debris and clean up the church in preparation for Holy Mass tomorrow.
The Kamels, for their part, had resumed throwing stones from their rooftop at the church this morning, claiming that they do not wish any prayers to be held there since the voice of the service disturbs them. The police stopped them, however, and have been attempting a ‘conciliation’ between the Muslims and the Copts.
16 February 2013