08 April 2011
Last Tuesday, a Muslim mob a few thousand strong gathered in front of Mar-Yuhanna (St John’s) church in the Minya village of al-Qamadir in Samalout, some 240km south of Cairo. Samalut, demanding that the church should be closed. They attacked the church and the Copts’ houses with stones and set on fire Coptic-owned shops.
The Coptic villagers called for the help of military and the police after the Muslims filed a formal complaint demanding the closure of the old building. Officers at Samalout police station attempted to calm matters down by persuading the Copts to agree to close the church, but the Copts refused. The case was referred to Samalout prosecution, while the number of the Muslim demonstrators swelled to more than five thousand. The only security around the church consisted of two policemen. The Muslim crowd threatened to demolish the church.
The church building dates back to 2001 when the Coptic villagers managed to get an official permit for a building to house a social community centre under the name of Mar-Yuhanna Society and to hold religious rites. The facility, a mud brick building that served some 2500 Coptic villagers, became inadequate and unsafe a few years later. The Copts filed a request with the local authorities to demolish the building and rebuild it as a proper church building. In the meantime, the Muslim villagers erected an Azahari institute (an Islamic school) and a mosque right in front of the church.
Following the 25 January revolution, the Copts filed another application to the military ruler in the locality to demolish the existing building and erect a new one. They were asked to submit the architectural drawings and dimensions of the required building. As this was being prepared word got around of the Coptic intentions, which led the Muslim villagers to counteract them.
On Thursday, a reconciliation session was organised by the local security officials and politicians between Qamadir Muslims and the church leaders and elders of the Coptic community in Qamadir. The Muslims refused to have a church in the vicinity of their mosque, and it was decided that Mar-Yuhanna church should be closed and the Copts would build a new community centre that would be licensed to hold religious rights, outside the village. A Copt donated a 300 square-meter-house in the vicinity of the village for the purpose.
The house will be pulled down and—according to the terms of the reconciliation—a new one-storey, 240 sq.m-wide one will be built. It should carry no sign to indicate it can be used as a church: no cross, no dome, now tower.