Minya Copts protest continued closure of church

12-03-2017 09:25 PM

Nader Shukry


The angry Copts of the village of Koum al-Loufi in Samalout, Minya, have

gathered at Samalout Bishopric in protest against Minya security officials who had

reneged on their promise that a building they had closed would be reopened for

prayers.

Fundamentalists wield their power

“We are sick of promises we have been given since last August, but were never

kept,” said Younan Khalaf, one of the villagers. “Minya officials have made

several meetings with our Muslim fellow-villagers to negotiate the reopening of

our de-facto church, but the extremists among them absolutely refused.

“We are now during Lent,” Mr Khalaf said, “There are various church services and

rituals we wish to attend, but have to travel to other nearby villages to do so.

Means of transport are not easy here,” he said, “meaning that the aged and weak

can never manage to go.”

“We realise that everyone is now concerned with the relocation of al-Arish Copts

who had to flee their hometown two weeks ago under threats and killings by

Islamists. We are also in a village where, even though there is no killing of Copts,

fundamentalist Muslims are wielding their power and imposing their will against

our need to pray.”

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Another villager, Badr Khalifa, told Watani that the Koum al-Loufi Copts were

considering holding a sit-in in Cairo “so that our plight, which the President and

authorities in Cairo may not be aware of, may come to light.

Fr Daoud Nashed from Samalout Bishopric has accompanied a number of

representatives of Koum al-Loufi Copts to meet Minya Security Chief General

Faisal Dweidar who told them that reopening the closed building for prayer

required the approval of the village Muslims, in order to avoid any consequent

attack against the Copts.

Attack on suspicion of building church

The story goes back to last June when fanatic Muslims set fire to four Coptic-

owned houses in Koum al-Loufi on suspicion that one of them would be turned

into a church. Two Copts, Ashraf Khalaf and his brother Ibrahim Khalaf, were in

the process of building new homes for their families when a rumour spread that

one of these houses would be turned into a church.

Even though the police made the Khalafs sign pledges that the houses they were

building would be used for residence and not for practising religious rites, a fanatic

Muslim mob waged an attack against the Copts in the village, and three houses

incurred severe damages. At the time the State announced it would compensate the

Copts for their losses to the tune of EGP40,000 in all.

The Koum al-Loufi Copts were exposed to relentless pressure as well as threats by

the Muslim villagers to ‘conciliate’ with the attackers, that is to reach an out-of-

court settlement upon which they relinquish their legal rights. The terms of such

traditional conciliations, which are orchestrated by the Muslim village elders and

the local politicians and security officials, have invariably been oppressive to the

Copts. The Khalafs have resisted conciliation and insisted on the implementation

of the law, despite the threats and the fact that they are still homeless. They have

had to cram their families into a garage owned by a relation who generously

offered it to them for temporary residence. Yet they have been beaten up in the

village streets and threatened with more violence should they insist on rejecting

conciliation. The entire Coptic population of Koum al-Loufi have been threatened

with collective revenge should the Khalafs refuse to conciliate. Many Copts,

fearing for the safety of their families, fled the village.

Unreasonable pretext

Last August the Copts of Koum al-Loufi waged a sit-in in front of the St Mark’s

Cathedral in Abbasiya and they were later received in parliament to present their

case in a hearing that was organised for them. The House of Representatives

pledged to resolve the crisis and guarantee the safe return of the Copts to their

homes which they promised to help reconstruct. Yet it was Samalout Bishopric

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which stood by the Copts, helping them reconstruct their homes and negotiating

with the security authorities on their behalf to secure their return home.

When the reconstruction and refurbishment works were complete the local

government refused to supply these homes with electricity under the pretext that

the houses were built in a non-officially- planned area. “The pretext is laughable,”

Ibrahim Khalaf told Watani. “The entire village was never an officially-planned

area!”

So now the Copts in Koum al-Loufi have grievances on two counts: their small de-

facto church is closed; and the Khalafs are being pressured in every way, to the

point where they are refused basic rights.

Watani International

12 March 2017

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