The Copts of the village of al-Furn in Abu-Qurqas, Minya, some 250km south of Cairo, who were on Sunday 20 August banned by the police from accessing their church to hold Sunday Mass, held Mass in the street on 22 August to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin. It went very well; none of the Muslim villagers made any sign of discontent.
Banned by force
Early on Sunday 20 August 2017, the Copts in the village of al-Furn were banned by the police from accessing their church to hold Sunday Mass. The priest, Fr Boutros Aziz, who comes every Sunday to officiate Mass was also kept off the Church premises by security forces who cordoned off the area. When the Copts stood in the street chanting ‘Kyrie Eleison (Lord have mercy)’ the police dispersed them by force.
The de facto church is consecrated to the Holy Virgin, and is a small village house owned by the Bishopric of Minya and Abu-Qurqas. It is situated among a Coptic-majority neighborhood in the village, and has been used for worship for over four years now. The village includes some 400 Copts.
Local political and security officials in Abu-Qurqas declared that the ban was because the Copts had no permit to practice religious rites in the house. Abu-Qurqas police officials, represented by Brigadier General Muhammad Salah, filed a report to that effect, citing complaints reported against the Copts by al-Furn Muslims.
Minya & Abu-Qurqas Bishopric issued a statement saying that the ‘house’ in question was in fact a church that has been used for worship for years under the eyes and nose of the police who never said it violated the law. Al-Furn Muslims, the statement said, never objected to the de facto church which is situated far from them, among Coptic homes. More importantly, Egyptian law includes no stipulation that practicing worship requires any permit.
Complaint to President
On Monday 21 August, al-Furn Copts sent a complaint to President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.
The complaint was signed by 44 representatives of the 400-strong Coptic community in the village. It stated: “We, the inhabitants of the village of al-Furn in Abu-Qurqas, Minya, are Egyptian citizens who were this morning, 20 August 2017, banned from holding our usual prayers and practising our religious rites. We woke up to find that a police force was surrounding our area in the village; they forcibly forbade us Copts from leaving our homes to go out to worship, and verbally abused us in a humiliating manner.
“In all your talks and speeches, Mr President, you insist that Egyptian citizens should live in dignity and equality. Today, we met treatment totally opposed to that. We were treated as though we were criminals or outlaws who had to be taken to justice on charges of practising our religious rites.
“Is it a crime for us to hold religious rites? How then can there be any equality among Egyptians?
“We ask you to order an end to these practices against us.”
Copies of the complaint were sent to the Prime Minister, Minya Governor, the Interior Minister, and the Chief of Security.
On 13 August, Anba Macarius, Bishop-General of Minya and Abu-Qurqas, issued a statement in which he protested against the injustice practiced by the local security authorities who refuse to reopen churches that have been for years closed ‘due to security reasons’. He said that Minya parish alone included some 15 such closed churches, and 70 villages with no churches at all.
The Bishop commented on the peaceful celebration in the street of Mass on the Feast of the Holy Virgin saying: What more can prove that the Muslim villagers have nothing against the worship of Copts? The problem is not with the Muslim villagers, it’s with the security authorities.”
22 August 2017