The Copts of the village of Ezbet Nakhla in Abu-Qurqas, Minya, some 250km south of Cairo, were this morning prevented by the police from holding Sunday Mass in their local church of Mar-Mina. The police, who surrounded the church and stopped the Copts from accessing it, insisted the extraordinary measure was to taken to ensure the safety of the Copts and protect them from Salafi threats.
The Coptic congregation of Ezbet Nakhla had started gathering at the Mar-Mina’s at 5am to attend early morning Mass, only to find heavy security presence there and orders for them not to go in. Fr Boutros Aziz, who had come to hold Mass, was prevented from entering the village.
The Copts contacted Anba Macarius, Bishop-General of Minya and Abu-Qurqas, who attempted to persuade the police to allow worship to take place in church, but without success. Matters escalated to a verbal clash of words between the Copts and the police; the women stood before the many security vehicles crying, “We want to pray; don’t prevent us.” One said, “When we seek to pray, you should encourage us, not stop us.”
In order to contain the matter and avert any chance of actual clashes, Anba Macarius asked the Copts to hold worship in one of the homes in the village, for the sake of peace.
According to Anba Macarius, Mar-Mina’s was opened some six months ago. During the last few days, and in response to threats against the church by Salafi extremists in the village, the local security authorities decided to temporarily ban worship at Mar-Mina’s. The bishop could not convince them otherwise; he says that all they did was to promise to resolve the problem shortly, and that the Copts would resume worship in their church in a few weeks. “We’ll wait for them to keep good on their promise for the sake of the Copts who today suffered injustice and indignity,” he said.
The Coptic congregation who could not enter their church this morning were livid at the police. “Such heavy security presence,” a man who required anonymity said, “should protect us during prayers not prevent us from praying.”
“How could any group of people give themselves the right to prevent Copts from praying and deny their rights as Egyptian citizens?” anther man protested, “and how can the State security authorities acquiesce to this? Security officials are appeasing the Islamist Salafis for the sake of peace; why should Copts forever alone pay the price of peace?”
The Ezbet Nakhla incident comes at a time when Copts in Egypt are suffering heavily at the hands of extremist Muslims. The last few weeks saw seven Copts killed in the space of three weeks in the North Sinai town of al-Arish, following which close to 200 Coptic families had to flee town and relocate elsewhere in Egypt.
5 March 2017