The village of Koum al-Raheb in Samalout, Minya, some 250km south of Cairo, saw a pacification session today held between representatives of the village’s Muslim and Coptic communities to ease tensions among them.
Skirmishes that had erupted among both sides in the village on Monday 10 December led the police to detain nine Copts and ten Muslims. The villagers hoped that the pacification session would bring about peace and persuade the police to set the detainees free.
Sunday 9 December had seen the Copts in Koum al-Raheb open a new, unlicensed church in the village and hold Mass inside. The police got wind of the activity and arrived at the site demanding immediate closure of the church.
The Copts persuaded the police to wait for Mass to conclude before closing the building, which they did and confiscated its keys.
Monday morning, local government employees arrived to the church to cut off water and electricity from the building through removing the electricity and water metres, a standard measure taken against unlicensed buildings. The village Copts gathered around the church to oppose this procedure, and stood praying out loud in the street in front of the four-storey building.
To Islamic cheers of “Allahu Akbar”, literally Allah is the Greatest, groups of Muslim villagers waged attacks against the houses of the Copts in the village, pelting them with stones and thumping at doors and windows.
According to the village priest who asked for his name to be withheld, the fundamentalist Muslims used the local mosque’s microphone to rally the village Muslims against the Copts. He said the new church would have served the village’s 2500 Copts, since the village includes no church.
The police arrived, made the arrests, imposed calm, and heightened security over the village.
Today’s pacification session, which was held upon request of the Copts and was attended by local politicians and security officials, resulted in an agreement that the Copts should obtain license for the church, with a promise from the local politicians to speed up the process. It was also agreed that the detainees would be released; the legal procedure already moving to that end.
11 December 2018