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Pastor of torched Egyptian church jailed over building’s height

Country/Region: Middle East and North Africa, Egypt, Africa

The pastor of an Egyptian church that was torched by Muslims – prompting a Christian protest that was brutally crushed by the military – has been jailed over the building’s excess height.

Makarios Bolous was sentenced to six months in prison and fined 300 Egyptian pounds for violations regarding the height of St George’s Church in the village of Elmarinab, Aswan province.

Hanging-Church_4X3.jpg
Churches in Egypt are vulnerable
to attack by Islamists
JennaU / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The century-old building was torched by a Muslim mob on 30 September 2011. It was under renovation at the time, and permission for the work had been granted by the governor of Aswan.

Local Muslims took objection, and after making demands that the building be stripped of any sign of its being a church, they turned violent. Attackers demolished the dome, walls and columns before torching the building.

Thousands of Christians took to the streets of Cairo in protest, and on 9 October they came under brutal attack by the security forces, Islamists and thugs. In what was described as the worst violence in Egypt since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, military vehicles charged at Christians who were demonstrating near the state TV building in Maspero Square; the protestors were also shot at, beaten and dragged through the streets. At least 25 people were killed and hundreds were injured.

Following an international outcry over the incident, Field Marshall Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, gave orders to the governor of Aswan that St George’s be rebuilt at the expense of the government. Nothing has yet been done.

One church leader said:

We are not allowed to pray there or come near it by order of the authorities.

Construction workers had started removing the excess height before the building was torched. At Mr Bolous’ court hearing, the church lawyer presented documents showing that the architect and building contractor – not the pastor – had responsibility for this work, but this was not taken into consideration. St George’s will appeal against the ruling.

Mr Bolous has also been prevented from going into the village by the local Muslims.

The attack on St George’s was one of an increasing number of violent anti-Christian incidents in Egypt since the revolution. Now that Islamist parties hold the majority of the seats in the new parliament, Christians are fearful that their vulnerable position in Egyptian society will only worsen.

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