Published: 09:49 GMT Daylight Time - Thursday 15 September 2011
Muslims barricade Christians in Egyptian village over church dispute
Country/Region: Egypt, Middle East and North Africa
Christians were barricaded in their Egyptian village by local Muslims who threatened to demolish a newly-built church and use it as a mosque.
The Christian residents of Elmarinab in Edfu, Aswan province, were blocked from leaving their homes, even to buy food, until the domes of St George’s Church were removed. The church minister said that doing so would cause the building to collapse.
The century-old church of St George was rebuilt – with permission from the Aswan governor – because its dilapidated state made it unsafe to use for services. Local Muslims made no complaint about the rebuilding until the work was nearly complete and services were being held there.
At a “reconciliation” meeting on 2 September, Christians – for the sake of peace – conceded to the Muslims’ demands that the building be stripped of crosses and bells, despite the permit allowing these items as well as the domes.
But this was apparently not enough to placate the Muslims, who, four days later, demanded the removal of the domes also and any other sign of its being a church. They are claiming that the previous building was not a church but a hospitality home, despite valid documents to the contrary.
Security forces were called to intervene as Muslims blocked the roads to the village and Christians were trapped in their homes. Officers accompanied two Christian youths to buy food for the villagers. There are reports that Muslims destroyed their crops while the Christians were detained.
With tensions escalating, two army tanks arrived to protect villagers from violence early on Friday morning (9 September). But the Muslims were undeterred by the military presence, and chanting “Allahu Akhbar” (“God is great”), they called for the church to be razed. They threatened to demolish it after Friday prayers and use it as a mosque. Christian youths reportedly stayed inside the building to guard it from vandalism.
The authorities demanded that no further construction be carried out or services held in the church, and that Muslims refrain from violence. There have been no subsequent reports of the Muslims carrying out their threats.
Muslims are often hostile to the construction of Christian places of worship in Egypt, and Christians face frequent harassment and sometimes violence as a result. Restrictions on church buildings make it difficult for Christians to obtain permission for new ones or even repair existing ones.
At the end of July, eight Christians were injured when hostility over the installation of a church bell at a 100-year-old church in Ezbet Yacob, Minya province, turned violent. Muslims started attacking the building and assaulting Christians, including a pregnant woman. Six required hospital treatment.