Thousands of Copts staged a sit-in inside and outside the Church of the St. Mary in Talbiya, in the Pyramids area, since the morning of November 11, to protest the storming of the church premises by dozens of security forces to stop construction work and demolish stairs and toilets inside the church, despite the church having obtained the necessary permits.
As soon as news of the arrival of security forces at the church became known, hundreds of Copts arrived to congregate. The angry protesters vowed to remain in the church, having heard that security is waiting for them to leave the premises so as to come back and seal it off. They said they are adamant that this is their church and no one is going to stop them from praying there. “Even if President Mubarak himself comes, the church building will go on,” said Mansour el-Sharkawy in the interview. “They are just finding excuses to put their foot in, then start demolishing the church.”
More than one million Copts live in the Talbiya area, without a single church to serve them, having to travel for miles every Sunday with their children to the nearest church. The protesters pointed out that the area is full of mosques without licenses, but when it comes to the Copts, they toil for years to obtain a permit for a church, then security comes out with some sort of excuse to stop them from praying there.
The standoff started on Thursday morning, when the Omrania local authorities committee came under the pretext of completing the papers for the construction works and found that builders were building a second staircase, as well as toilets, which they considered to be in violation of the permit granted. “It was the Civil Defense authorities who asked the church to erect a second staircase to relieve congestion inside the church in case of emergencies and the necessary permit amendments were made,” said Shehata, adding that “if a fire broke out, how do you get hundreds of people out of church with just one staircase, and if women and children want to use the toilets, where should they go?”
After the local authorities left the church, five priests and the contractor went to the local authorities to solve the problem, but were unsuccessful. After their return, security forces arrived with their vehicles.
According to Shehata they were in church when the security forces arrived in huge numbers, to force them to stop construction. “As a means of intimidation, the forces tried to break the church door down, arrest the builders and take away the children as young as seven years old who were present at church. One of the children, a 7 year-old girl named Marina, was terrorized by officers and their rifles. She sobbed and begged one officer, saying “I beg of you uncle, let us live, We don’t want to die, for God’s sake.” A ten-year-old Coptic boy, a nephew of the church contractor, was on his way to church, but was detained and asked by security to get into their car. He was later released.
“They wanted to get the women out of the building, so that they can arrest the builders and church youth who were helping them,” Shehata said. “They are just finding excuses to prevent the building of the church; but the builders are still working and nothing will stop them.” Land for the church was bought over 20 years ago, but the necessary permit to build the Church was granted only six years ago, but it was stopped by the security authorities. This year President Mubarak was approached and he granted another decree to build the church.
“I would like to know what wrong have we committed, we are just asking for our rights to have a place of worship,” said Shehata to Coptic activist Miriam Ragey. “The moment the Muslims saw the Church domes being built, they went mad,” she added.
It was said that when Muslims learned of the construction of the church, they started dumping rubbish on the land to be used for the church.
On September 15, 2010, an Islamic Jihadist Forum called Islamic Atahadi (Challenge) Network, which is said to be an affiliate of Al-Qaida, published on its website under the title “Images of the Church under construction in the Pyramids and how to demolish it, in retaliation for Camelia.” Camelia is the priest’s wife, falsely rumored by Muslims to have converted to Islam and subsequently “abducted” by the Coptic Church.
The Forum told its members showing photos of the church’s construction and instructions on how to demolish the St. Mary’s Church in Talbiya, Pyramids: “An easy and affordable way for the demolition of the church before its completion, no need for demonstrations, no need for the use of weapons or explosives, you only need to introduce certain quantities of sugar, yes normal sugar.” They went on to explain how to introduce reasonable quantities of sugar inside the forms prepared for pouring the columns, “Because sugar affects concrete and cancels the chemical reaction which makes the sand and gravel hold together with the cement.” They advised in their the step by step instructions that timing was very important in the process; the best time being immediately before pouring the roof”.
On the morning of November 12 it was reported that security prevented the entry of bricks and sand to the Church site. The congregation, who were still guarding the church, said they got threats published on the Internet, that their girls will be abducted, and to keep them indoors. Priests at St. Mary’s Church refused to make any statements, in order to avoid a clash with security and on the instructions of Bishop Theodosius of Giza, who is expected to return from Germany this evening, to resolve the Church crisis.