For the third time, the Coptic villagers of Koum al-Raheb in Samalout, Minya, some 250km south of Cairo, had no option but to hold a funeral service on a street in the village after their church was closed by the police in December 2018.
Last week, the funeral service for Nazmy Boutros Sidhom was held on a village road in Koum al-Raheb . Hundreds of Copts gathered before his coffin as the priests held the ritual funeral prayers.
One of the Coptic villagers said: “This is the third time we had to hold a service in the street since the closure of the church. Our Muslim neighbours came to offer condolences.” Together with the other Copts, he demanded that the church should be reopened. “Worship,” he said, “is one of our basic rights”
Sunday 9 December had seen the Copts in Koum al-Raheb open a new, unlicensed church in the village and hold Mass inside. The police got wind of the activity and arrived at the site demanding immediate closure of the church.
The Copts persuaded the police to wait for Mass to conclude before closing the building, which they did and confiscated its keys.
Monday morning, local government employees arrived to the church to cut off water and electricity from the building through removing the electricity and water metres, a standard measure taken against unlicensed buildings. The village Copts gathered around the church to oppose this procedure, and stood praying out loud in the street in front of the four-storey building.
To Islamic cheers of “Allahu Akbar”, literally Allah is the Greatest, groups of Muslim villagers waged attacks against the houses of the Copts in the village, pelting them with stones and thumping at doors and windows.
According to the village priest who asked for his name to be withheld, the fundamentalist Muslims used the local mosque’s microphone to rally the village Muslims against the Copts. He said the new church would have served the village’s 2500 Copts, since the village includes no church.
The police arrived, made the arrests, imposed calm, and heightened security over the village.
Upon request of the Copts, a ‘pacification session’ was held the following day, attended by local politicians and security officials. It resulted in an agreement that the Copts should obtain license for the church, with a promise from the local politicians to speed up the process. It was also agreed that the detainees would be released.
The Koum al-Raheb street funeral is not the first of its kind. In another Minya village, Dimshau Hashim, Copts had to do the same thing last September.
10 February 2019