While Egyptians, Muslims and Christians alike, are trying to fathom the tragedy that took place Sunday, when 25 people were killed in bloody clashes following protests by Copts against the demolition of a church in the south of the country, a statement made by a prominent monk has left people in an even more puzzled state.
Monk Hedra, the archbishop of Aswan, in Upper Egypt, took everyone by surprise when he said that the Mar Girgis church in the village of al-Marinab was not subjected to demolition, as believed by Copts who staged massive protests outside the state TV building in Cairo to protest against religious discrimination in the country.
“It is not true that Muslims in the village attacked Christians during the construction of the church, nor that they tried to demolish it or take the cross down from its dome,” the monk said in an interview with the Coptic channel Karma.
“There have never been any aspects of sectarian strife in the village to start with,” he added.
Monk Hedra then recounted the story of the church that precipitated the clashes. The church, he said, was originally a place where residents of the village met to socialize, and Copts used to pray there on religious occasions. Masses were always performed under the protection of security.
“This was the case for a long time until the place became very shabby and needed renovation. It was then that Monk Makarius Bolos made use of the contacts he has with security and the engineering administration in Edfou [the city in Aswan governorate to which the village is administratively affiliated] in order to issue renovation permits, citing the building as the Mar Girgis Church.”
Based on this permit, Monk Hedra went on, Monk Makarius demolished the house, which was owned by a Copt in the village, and started building a church.
“The permit stipulated a specific height and Monk Makarius exceeded that. This is a fact no one can deny.”
According to Monk Hedra, Monk Makarius counted on his good relations with Muslims in the village, many of whom helped with the construction.
“The problem started after the construction, which rose higher than expected, was noticed by relatives of villagers who came to visit during the Lesser Bairam. They started rebuking the Muslims of the village for letting this happen and accused them of weakness.”
This incitement, he explained, resulted in some skirmishes between Muslims and Christians in the village, but Muslims did not come near the church and not one Christian was harmed in one way or another.
“No crosses or bells were placed on top in the first place to be removed by Muslims or to make Muslims force Copts to remove them, as reported.”
By then, Monk Hedra added, rumors were spreading all over Egypt.
“They were totally baseless and none of what was said happened in the village. No one thought of verifying the information from us.”
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)