Written by Tereza Kamal
2 August 2009
On Friday 24 July, Muslims in al-Hawasliya village in Minya, Upper Egypt, attacked their Christian neighbours upon hearing that a house belonging to Milad Shehata will be transformed into a church.
Young Muslims set gas cylinders aflame and hurled them, together with fireballs, at the house. Surprisingly, that house remained intact while four neighbouring houses and six stables were burnt. Sobhy Youssef, 30, and his mother Neimat Sanad, 65, were both injured, as were two police officers, Ashraf Fathy Mohamed and Mohamed Hashem. A number of cattle died.
Christians in the village asserted that the building belongs to the Baptist Church and that Fr Milad Shehata has been trying for months to obtain a license to conduct prayers.
Burnt downThe villagers Eissa Rasmy and Adly Zaghloul told Watani that the clashes started between Muslims and Christians in the village ever since the church building was nearing completion. A few weeks ago the Christian Farah Kamel adorned the door of his house with a cross, upon which his Muslim neighbours tried to disfigure it. Kamel was furious since the Muslims themselves are in the habit of adorning the external walls and doors of their houses with Qur’anic verses.
Ibrahim Abdullah said that hundreds of Muslims attacked the houses of his son Eissa and his son-in-law Magdy Youssef and burnt them down. They hit his sister Neimat on the head with a rock and injured her badly.
Fr Milad said he was stunned when the police detained him one day before the attack. Fr Milad told Watani that the Christians will never give up their demands to obtain a license for the church which they managed to build despite their very limited means.
He expressed concern regarding the 15 Copts who were detained together with 25 Muslims and charged with demonstration and arson. The Muslims in the village, according to Ihab Ramzy the Christians’ lawyer, accused the Christians of igniting sectarian conflict in the village in order to build their church.Until Watani went to press the village was under heightened security and 40 villagers were detained.
Can’t Copts build? Can’t they pray?Last Wednesday another attack took place in the village of al-Rida in Minia when a number of young Muslim men attacked a site owned by the Evangelical Copt Medhat Mamdouh on the grounds that he appeared ot be intending to build a church there.
Mamdouh, who is in the timbre trade, said he had begun to erect the foundations for a warehouse, and had nothing to do with the church. Since this is the sixth torching of Christian-owned buildings in the villages of Minya and Beni-Sweif in five weeks—beginning with Ezbet-Bushra on 21 June, then Ezbet Girgis, Ezbet Basilious, Faqaai, and now Hawasliya and Rida—the Copts are terrified.
They ask: Can’t Copts erect any building without being [accused] of intending to use the building for prayer? And is it now a crime against the community to for Copts to pray?