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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Egyptian Security Standoff Over Church Construction

AINA

A Standoff took place on November 22 between Copts and security forces, which stormed the Church of St. Mary and St. Michael, in Talbiya, Giza to stop the construction of the church. It was the second time in less than 10 days that security forces stormed the church premises to seal it off.

The siege began at midnight and lasted until six AM. Priests and parishioners had anticipated the visit from security. "All priests were inside the premises, and a great number of the parishioners were inside the church since 9.00 PM, praying," a witness said.

Security forces surrounded the church and prevented the builders from working, and confiscated four concrete mixing vehicles containing ready-mixed concrete, which were on their way to church. The concrete was spoiled, being kept for over 10 hours, costing a loss of 400.000 Egyptian pounds, reported Wagih Yacoub.

Nearly two thousand Copts came to the church as soon as they heard that security forces had stormed the church and are continuing their sit-ins and demonstrations in front of the church until the matter is resolved.

Protestors are adamant that they have all necessary construction permits, condemning the decision of the chief of the local authorities in Omraniya to stop work on the church, which is nearly complete except for the domes.

One of the building contractors told Ms. Hekmat Hanna, a reporter at the scene, that every now and then security comes to hamper our work because they do not want the church to "show." Also "for the police officers and district officials to come so late at night, shows that what they are doing is wrong."

Dr. Naguib Ghobrial, President of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights, issued a statement today calling for the dismissal of the chief of the local authorities in Omraniya, who issued the order. "The church has all the permits, and by this behavior the chief of the local authority is encouraging Islamists to fight with the Christians because of the Church and therefore causing sedition."

The crisis started on November 11 as the church was in its final finishing stages and the builders were completing the roof, when security forces stormed the church and wanted to close it down, under the pretext that the building is not in accordance with the drawings presented. Three days earlier, the authorities at Omraniya came under the pretext of completing the papers for the construction work and found that builders were building a second staircase, as well as toilets, which they considered to be in violation of the permit granted.

According to church authorities, 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.

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. Until now the building of the new church came to more than 7 million Egyptian pounds, all collected from donations of the local Copts.

Samira Ibrahim Shehata a volunteer worker at the church, who had been keeping guard at the Church premises since November 11, said, "I want to know why a hundred mosques can be built, and not one church can be built. I believe that State Security is the root of all evil."

It was also reported that the Governor of Giza is going to the church premises to negotiate with the thousands of Copts from Talbiya and Giza who are still continuing their sit-in in front of the church.

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