The desert monastery of Anba Samueel al-Muetarif, St Samuel the Confessor, which is located west of Minya, some 220km southwest Cairo, is now open to visitors for pilgrimage every Friday.
Security authorities had closed the monastery to visitors since 2017, except for a few exceptional occasions, on the pretext of security hazards to visitors. That was in the wake of two terrorist attacks against visitor in 2017.
On 26 May 2017, the buses carrying pilgrims who came from nearby Minya and Beni Sweif were stopped by masked men who later claimed to be affiliated to Daesh, also known as Islamic State (IS); 28 Copts were shot to death.
Six months later, in November 2017, a similar crime occurred when IS killed seven Coptic pilgrims to the same monastery, almost at the same spot.
Security authorities have claimed the terrain is almost impossible to secure on a permanent basis, and requires military and Air Force participation on account of its rugged cave territory used by terrorists as hideouts, and absence of communication networks. They accordingly issued warnings to visitors against venturing on the road. When visitors did not heed the warning, the security authorities closed the monastery to visitors.
Copts have protested the closure, claiming that it was the responsibility of security authorities to secure the road. Together with St Samuel’s monks, they have been demanding that the road should be paved and provided with light posts and telecommunication facilities. The monks have incurred large losses on account of the closure because it hampered the arrival of basic supplies to the monastery, and prevented the sale of monastery products to visitors. The livelihood of the monks hinges upon such sales.
Now that the road to the monastery has been paved and the communications network fortified, also surveillance cameras were installed and the wall fencing the monastery completed, Copts have demanded a return of visits. But pilgrims to the monastery two weeks ago were not allowed access to the place.
Negotiations between the monastery and the relevant authorities have resulted in an agreement to open the monastery to visitors once a week; Friday was chosen since it is weekend in Egypt.
30 April 2023
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