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Egypt Copts decry attempt to "Islamize" Cairo

Governor sued for renaming country's oldest streets

Egypt's leading Christians have accused the governor of Cairo of trying to Islamize the streets by changing the names of some of the country's oldest areas from Christian ones to Islamic ones.

The advisor of the Coptic Pope Shenouda III, Dr. Naguib Gebrael, filed a lawsuit against Governor Abdul-Azim Wazir for changing street names without any legal or historical reason.

Gebrael cited the example of Victoria Square in Cairo's densely populated Coptic area called Shubra whose name was changed to Nasr al-Islam or the victory of Islam, the name of a fundamentalist association that offers charity services in the area.

"This is an attempt at Islamizing the districts of Cairo," Gebrael told AlArabiya.net. "These decisions infuriate Copts and prove there is a plan by the government to Islamize Egypt."

"There is a committee in charge of naming streets and squares and its members include university professors of geography and history. Did fundamentalism infiltrate this scientific committee?" he added.

Gebrael stressed that Copts have nothing against Islamic names and that the lawsuit is not out of fanaticism for Christianity, but rather keenness to preserve the history of Egypt and promote tolerance and multiplicity. Shubra is one of the oldest districts in Cairo and has a considerable Coptic population.

This is an attempt at Islamizing the districts of Cairo...These decisions infuriate Copts and prove there is a plan by the government to Islamize Egypt...There is a committee in charge of naming streets and squares and its members include university professors of geography and history. Did fundamentalism infiltrate this scientific committee?

Dr. Naguib Gebrael

500 years of Victoria

Copts respect Islam and would never agree to give Christian names to important historic districts with Islamic names like Sayyeda Zeinab, the name of the Prophet's granddaughter, father Matta Sawiris—a member of Coptic Orthodox Ecumenical Council—said

Sawiris said Shubra Square has been called Victoria Square for 500 years in honor of a woman who lived there and made plans for the historic district.

A governorate spokesman said he had received several inquiries about the issue and denied changing the names of places of historic importance, particularly Victoria Square.

The spokesman, Mustafa Khalil, also denied Gebrael's accusations about the committee being infiltrated by fundamentalists.

"Changing names of streets or districts is done on historical and geographical basis," Khalil told AlArabiya.net. "Names are only changed when they don't reflect the historical background of the place, when they are repeated, or when they sound funny."

Khalil said that the governorate will remove the sign of Nasr al-Islam from Victoria Square.

Changing names of streets or districts is done on historical and geographical basis...Names are only changed when they don't reflect the historical background of the place, when they are repeated, or when they sound funny

A governorate spokesman

Nasr al-Islam

The Nasr al-Islam association is owned by someone called Sheikh Ezzat, who was sacked from the organization for his suspicious behavior, Dr. Mohamed al-Mukhtar al-Mahdi, head of al-Shareyah organization for the revival of the prophet's teachings, told AlArabiya.net.

"We are not responsible for what he does," Mahdi said.

Sheikh Ezzat, however, stressed that all the activities of his association are under the supervision of security authorities and the Ministry of Social Affairs.

"I don't care about what people think no matter who they are," Ezzat told AlArabiya.net. Ezzat refused to comment on the sign in Victoria Square.



(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid.)