A group of Muslim extremists last Sunday 22 October attacked a community service building owned by Minya Bishopric in Ezbet al-Qeshiri in Nazlat Asmant, Abu-Qurqas, Minya, some 250km south of Cairo. The extremists protested against Copts holding religious rites inside the building which is commonly known as the church of Anba Moussa (St Moses). The attackers attempted to break into the building, the first floor of which houses a pre-school nursery and reception hall. When they could not get through they set the main iron gate on fire and broke the CCTV camera on top of the gate. As soon as the violence erupted, the police cordoned off the village and restored security, but caught no culprit. Investigations are ongoing.
According to a local Copt, Ezbet al-Qeshiri is home to some 1000 Copts who used to pray at the church of Mar-Girgis (St George) in the nearby village of Nazlet Asmant till 2015 when Minya Bishopric bought a building in Ezbet al-Qeshiri and established the community centre. The first floor houses a reception hall as well as a nursery that serves 38 toddlers and children aged 2 to 4. The second floor the church.
The locals say the existence of the church was no secret; the police even secured the place and its visitors. They told Watani that no one had anticipated any trouble. Yet, after sunset on Sunday 22 October, they were amazed to see a mob of some 60 extremists moving from the mosque towards the church, screaming: “no matter what, we’ll bring the church down”, and “Islamic! Islamic!” meaning the village has to be entirely Islamic, with no non-Islamic activity. The mob tried to storm into the church but could not because of the iron gate.
The mob smashed the car of Fawzy Labib, a Copt, and hurled stones at the houses of Copts, inflicting minor injuries on Atef Shafiq, Boctor Nadi Yassa, and Ibrahim Ishaq Yanni.
Three other de-facto churches in Upper Egypt villages were also closed by the police last Sunday. Two of them are in Minya: one in al-Karm and the other in Sheikh Alaa’; the third is in al-Hager, Sohag, some 460km south of Cairo.
The church of the Holy Virgin in al-Karm was closed because the Copts brought in mortar and cement to repair the floor of the church, but this led the Muslim villagers to believe that the Copts intended to expand their church. They filed complaints with police who, fearing sectarian unrest, closed down the church. The church serves some 1000 Copts.
In case of al-Hager in Sohag where the church of the Holy Virgin and the Saints Mar-Girgis and Abu-Seifein had stood since 2013, the police said they received complaints from Muslim villagers against the church, and thus decided to close it and disconnect its electricity and water supply. The four-storey building housed a church, a home for the pastor, a centre for social services, and a pre-school nursery. It serves 3000 Copts.
Because of the dire need for churches, all four de-facto churches were built without licence. The Church, however, has officially applied to legalise their status according to the Law for Building and Restoration of Churches that was issued in 2016.
24 October 2017