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Muslims attack and torch previously threatened church in Egypt

Country/Region: Egypt, Middle East and North Africa

Muslims have carried out their threat to destroy a church in an Egyptian village; they also torched homes and other property belonging to Christians.

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A mob of Muslims descended on St George’s Church, which was being renovated, in Elmarinab, Aswan province, after Friday prayers on 30 September. They demolished the dome, walls and columns before torching the building. Construction materials were also set alight.

Other property owned by Christians – four homes, a large depot of electrical goods and a supermarket – were also torched.

Eyewitnesses said that the Muslims prevented the fire brigade from entering the village, while a social worker at the church said that the security forces just “stood there watching”.

Demolition threat

Local Muslims had previously threatened to demolish the church and use it as a mosque.  The century-old church of St George was being rebuilt – with permission from the Aswan governor – because its dilapidated state made it unsafe to use for services. Local Muslims had made no complaint about the rebuilding until the work was nearly complete and services were being held there.

They then began to demand that the building be stripped of any sign of its being a church, including crosses, bells and domes, and they barricaded Christian residents in their homes until their requests were met.

The Muslims claimed that the original building was not a church but a hospitality home, despite valid documents to the contrary.

Various peace-keeping efforts failed, and on Friday (30 September) the imam of one of the village mosques called for Muslims to take matters into their own hands.

The Governor of Aswan said that the church contractor had exceeded the height limit for the building, and that both parties were therefore at fault.

Following the incident, Christian villagers were reportedly staying indoors, as it was rumoured that Muslims had threatened to torch their homes.

Several Christian organisations staged a rally in Cairo, culminating in Tahrir Square, on Saturday (1 October), protesting against attacks on churches.

Mass emigration

Since the revolution, Christians have increasingly been subjected to violent attacks by Islamists. A report by the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organisations (EUHRO) said that increased sectarian tensions had resulted in the emigration of 100,000 Christians from Egypt since March.  

EUHRO director Naguib Gabriel said that the Christians were not leaving voluntarily but were being forced out by the aggressive tactics of hard-line Salafist Muslims.  

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