Last evening saw a peaceful agreement reached between the Copts and Muslims of the village of al-Our in Samalout, Minya in Upper Egypt, after a weekend that witnessed demonstrations against the Copts.
Al-Our is the home village of 13 out of the 20 Copts whose beheading last February at the hands of the Islamic State in Libya appalled and grieved all Egypt and brought about retaliatory airstrikes by the Egyptian army against IS targets in Libya. President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi had then said that a church should be built at al-Our in honour of the Egyptian martyrs who were beheaded on account of their Christian faith.
In response to President Sisi’s initiative, a Coptic businessman purchased a piece of land on which to build the church, and Samalout Bishoprc was in the process of legalising ownership of the land. At the same time, the architectural drawings for the new church were being prepared in order to get approval from the building authorities.
“No church to be built here”
Last Friday, following Muslim noon prayers today, scores of hardline Muslims of al-Our waged demonstrations that marched through the village in protest against the building of a new church. Eyewitnesses told Watani that the protestors chanted: “By all means, no church will be built here”. They said that moderate Muslims and village elders succeeded in persuading the young fanatic demonstrators from attacking the home of Samuel Alham, members of whose family had been among those beheaded. The demonstrators had already been pelting the house with stones.
Even though the police then brought the situation under control and peace reigned, the Muslim demonstrations resumed in the evening, this time with hundreds of protestors joining, a large portion of whom came from neighbouring villages outside al-Our. They threw stones at the church of the Holy Virgin in al-Our and burned a Coptic owned car that was parked outside the church.
The police again intervened and brought the matter under control, detaining seven Muslims who had led the violent demonstrations.
The detainees released
The following morning, Saturday, marked the arbaeen of the Libya martyrs. The arbaeen, literally forty, is an Egyptian custom of commemorating the dead forty days after their passing away; the tradition goes back to ancient Egypt and was connected to the mummification process.
The arbaeen of the Libya martyrs was marked by Holy Mass at Samalout bishopric. The families of the martyrs did not attend. They said they remained in their village to guard their village church against any attack by Muslim fanatics, and to publicly express their sorrow at the turn in events in their village. Yet, responding to a conciliatory session with the Muslim elders, they headed to the police station and withdrew the claims they had made against the seven Muslims whom the police caught; the seven were then released.
During the day, the residents around Samalout bishopric reported sighting a bomb in the vicinity of the bishopric. A civil guard squad deactivated the bomb and said it was a primitive one connected to an electric circuit.
New site for church
Saturday afternoon, Minya Governor Salah Eddin Ziyada hosted a gathering in Samalout, that included local politicians and security chiefs to decided resolve the al-Our problem peacefully. The participants were unanimous that the new church would be built; there was no giving in the fanatic Muslims’ demands. It was decided that a committee of 10 of the village elders, five Muslims and five Copts, should be formed to figure out a resolution of the problem within the next 12 hours.
In the evening, the committee met and decided that the new church should be moved from the spot where it would have been built to another piece of land owned by Samalout bishopric and lying at the eastern border of the village. The meeting was cordial, and the Copts said they were relieved that both conflicting sides were happy with the decision. It was also decided that building the new church should start as soon as possible now that everyone was in agreement.
29 March 2015