-- The Muslim attack on March 5 on a church in the village of Soul, in
Atfih, on the outskirts of Cairo, prompted nearly 2,000,000 angry Copts
and liberal Muslims to stage a sit-in in front of the TV Building in
Maspero for 9 days, demanding the return of the church from the Muslim
occupiers and the return of the Copts back to their village.
pacify the Copts and criticisms from foreign governments, the Egyptian
army said it would rebuild the church at its own expense. Village
Muslims were adamant that if Copts wanted their church, it had to be
built outside the village. Army officials and the Governor of Helwan met
with Father Balamon, pastor of the torched church, who expected the
church to be returned to Copts, but after the meeting Father Balamon
said "instead we found the meeting centered around the idea of Copts
choosing another location for their church." This suggestion was refused
by all Coptic leaders and those at the sit-in, which has now been
dubbed the "March 6 Coptic Revolution."
Coptic activist Mark Ebeid
said "this suggestion was out of the question, and it was made as a
test case to see the Coptic reaction. Had we accepted it, we would have
faced the prospect of all our churches taken by Muslims and other ones
replaced outside the villages like outcasts."
The torching of the
church was invoked by an illicit relationship between a Coptic married
man and a Muslim married woman. The church in Soul and Muslim village
elders decided the Coptic man should leave the villager with his family,
which he did. The story developed between the father of the Muslim
woman and her cousin who wanted the family honour to be restored by
killing her. Her father refused and both killed each other. The Muslims,
holding the Christians responsible for their misfortune, came back from
the funeral straight to the church and torched it.
their act, the village Muslims circulated a rumor that the church
practices sorcery, based on books with strange designs they found,
besides pieces of papers at the alter with Muslim names scribbled on
them, wine bottles and some women's clothes.
A group of Muslim
scholars, headed by the Salafi Shaikh Mohammad Hassan went to the
village of Soul and met with the Muslim youth, most of whom are Salafis,
in order to pacify them and get them to evacuate the church. Salafis
believe in a strict and fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. They
agreed to give Hassan 48 hours to consult Sharia Law and other Muslim
scholars whether it is possible according to Sharia to rebuild a church
"All this taking place while the mighty army is waiting,
along with thousands of Copts at the sit-in, to fulfill its promise to
rebuild the Soul church," commented activist Wagih Yacoub. "What
everyone could not understand was the behavior of the army, as to why
they were not forcing the Muslims who occupied the church to evacuate
it, as they do with the Copts."
Hassan went out on national TV
channels confirming that he saw "with his own eyes" what the villagers
were saying about the church's witchcraft practice. A couple of priests
had to appear on TV to explain that the wine is for celebrating holy
communion, the books they saw were not witchcraft formulas, but liturgy
books in the Coptic language which uses a Greek alphabet, the scraps of
paper with names on the alter belonged to Muslims asking for the
intercession of the Virgin Mary whom they revere and the clothes are
donations for the poor.
On Saturday March 12, after the elapse of
48 hours, Shaikh Hassan went into the overcrowded hall, sitting at a
table with a Muslim Brotherhood and an army representative, among other
Muslim scholars. He told his audience that he consulted with ten other
Sharia scholars, the names of whom he read out, and they all agreed that
"According to the general rules of Allah's Sharia and the Fatwa
(religious edict) of the scholars, the Armed Forces Supreme Council
decided to rebuild the church as it was before, without any decrease or
increase in its size, under the supervision of the armed forces
The representative of the Armed Forces
Supreme Council said "In response to the tolerance shown by the village
youth towards the rebuilding of the church, the Armed Forces Supreme
Council shows its appreciation of the stance of the village youth, and
decides to rebuild the church at its own expense, by its executive
department, on the same area and to take the same look, with no decrease
or increase, starting on Sunday 13 March" (video of conference in Arabic).
added the Copts should return home and the village Muslims who always
"protected them" will continue to do so. "Hassan wants to make Dhimmis
out of us," said Mark Ebeid, "and besides, who said that Muslims protect
Christians? I thought we were living in country with a constitution and
a police force and not in Mecca or Medina, 14 centuries ago. Or maybe
this is a first step to later subject Christians to Jizya for protection."
Coptic activist Wagih Yacoub, enraged by the army having recourse to a Salafi Fatwa
to give over 15,000,000 Christian in Egypt their rights, said "In this
way the Supreme Council gave up in advance the rule of law which it
represents, in favor of Sharia law, which is represented by the Muslim
Brotherhood and the Salafis."
On March 5, Muslims in the village torched the church of St. Mena and St. George after looting its contents (AINA 3-5-2011),
playing football with the saints' relics and burning what was left.
Afterwards nearly 4000 men demolished the walls of the church with
sledgehammers to the sounds of "Allahu Akbar" coming out from the
speakers of the nearby mosque (video).
thousand Copts fled the village after being terrorized by Muslims, and
those who remained were mostly men after women were threatened to be
raped, were given refuge by Muslim neighbours or hid in their homes (video).
of all ages, including priests and monks, gathered the next day and
staged an open sit-in in front of the TV building until they get back
"their church" and the return of the displaced Copts back to their homes
in Soul village (AINA 3-8-2011).
torching and demolishing the church, Muslims occupied it and vowed to
turn it into a Mosque and started collecting donations. They also
started praying there.
By Mary Abdelmassih