A Coptic Orthodox church was demolished and a Christian leader attacked in the village of Koum Al Farag, Egypt. The building was used for the worship of 3,000 Christians, as well as a place for weddings, baptisms and funerals.
The destruction of the church was a punishment for the “crime” of building Sunday school rooms. “We decided to build an extra two stories on the church hall for church activities such as Sunday school classes, which was legal for us to do,” explains member and deacon Bishoy.
When the work started, some extremist Muslims started attacking the Christians, but they were moderated by moderate Muslims in the village. However, they did not give up, they started building an illegal mosque on the land next to the church, suitable for farming.
“We believe they built it out of protest. Our village already has four mosques and another one wasn’t really needed. On top of that, they built it without a foundation,” says Bishoy.
To solve the problem with the illegal mosque, the authorities decided to demolish the Islamic and Christian buildings.
“The church lawyer made an official appeal against this order but the mayor ignored it—despite being informed—and sent 200 policemen without warning,” says Bishoy.
Christians attacked and imprisoned
The decision was not well received by the Christians in the village, so they protested by appearing at the site in possession of the documents. However, the police and some radicals began to insult and attack Christians, including women and children.
The church leader was beaten so badly on his face and chest that he fainted.
Police officers arrested 14 people and released them the next day. One man, whose arm was broken, was among those detained by the authorities and did not have adequate medical treatment. Even in the confusion, the other members witnessed the destruction of the community they frequented.
The demolition of the church took six hours. Then the bulldozer continued to the mosque—the actual illegal building—and knocked down just one wall.
“The nearest church now is 15 km away. It is too far if you consider that we Copts go to church multiple times a week and most of us don’t have the means to travel out of our village. Please pray for us,” says Bishoy.
Officials ignore legal recourse
The request to demolish the church was signed by engineer Rady Ammar, president of the Abu El Matamir town council. The justification was that the Christian building had three violations, although the construction was already 15 years old.
The lawyer, who prefers not to be identified, went along with the church leader, Yassa Sobhi, and showed the documents to prove that they were allowed to finish the building.
“We asked the engineer why he had reported that the church was a new building and so he would demolish it completely. He ignored what we said and the papers we showed him, and simply said he would destroy both the church and the mosque,” the lawyer says.
The Christians appealed the decision to the Administrative Court in Damanhur, the capital of Beheira province, and requested that the destruction be stopped until the court delivers its final verdict.
“The chairman of the city council received the notification from the court, but decided to demolish the church anyway without waiting for the court’s decision on the case,” the church representative added.