On November 24th, Egyptian security was dispatched to halt the construction of a church that was building without having the proper permits. The police opened fire on Coptic protesters with live ammunition and hailed bricks on the crowd from a bridge. Four Copts were reported killed and more than a hundred were arrested, including minors.
Most of those arrested were the caretakers of their family. With them in prison, wives and children were left without an income. In early December, an ICC representative in Cairo, in partnership with the local church, distributed blankets and food to the neediest families. Within a month, most of those arrested were released, but the temporary provisions helped to sustain the families until that time.
A Christian’s right to build or repair a place of worship was the underline issue when the Egyptian government attacked protestors in Talbiya (see details of attack in April 12 post). While church leaders insisted they had the proper permits to build, government authorities disagreed. Throughout former President Hosni Mubarak’s rule, the Egyptian government has made it virtually impossible to build or repair a church. Coptic patience hit its limits on November 24. Taking to the street in droves to form a mass demonstration, Copts demanded that they be granted the same religious freedoms that are offered to Egypt’s Muslims.
On Rebuilding Churches in Egypt:
“In 2005 President Mubarak issued a decree, which delegated authority to the country’s 26 governors to grant permits to Christians to expand or rebuild existing churches. Instead of making matters easier, many local officials intentionally delay or refuse to process applications without “supporting documents” that are virtually impossible to obtain. State Security often blocks them from using permits that have been issued due to ‘security concerns’,” reported Assyrian International News Agency.
“Central to this dispute is the distinction in Egyptian law between church property and a church building. Church leaders have a permit to expand property owned by the church, but not to erect a church building. The appearance of the community centre extension suggests that it will be used as a place of worship, which would require a separate permit. Because of the difficulty in obtaining church building permits, the extension of other church property to form places of worship is a practice that has been resorted to,” reported Middle East Concern.
“The Egyptian government [must] implement procedures to ensure that all places of worship are subject to the same transparent, non-discriminatory, and efficient regulations regarding construction and maintenance. If the Egyptian government would pass and implement such a law, it may help in stemming some of the violence targeting Christians who are forced to convert private homes and buildings into churches because they cannot get permission to build an appropriate place of worship,” said Felice D. Gaer, former chair of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom.
Please pray that the law in Egypt will be changed to give equal treatment to places of worship for all faiths.
Makarios was fulfilling his service in the Egyptian army and trying to find a way to support his family. Unfortunately, his military earnings were not enough to provide for his two sisters, five brothers, and parents, yet Makarios was his family’s only source of income. Having three days leave from his military service, Makarios jumped at the chance to earn some extra cash. With nineteen young men from his village church, Makarios traveled ten hours to Cairo to find work. They had heard that they could find temporary employment by restructuring a community center into a church in Giza, located near the pyramids.
According to the Egyptian government, however, the church had not been granted the proper permits to build. Not understanding the debate over the church’s construction, Makarios and his friends found themselves caught in the middle of a dangerous situation. On November 24, riot police were dispatched to stop construction. Hundreds of Coptic Christian began protesting in response for their right to complete the church. The police took immediate action by opening fire with live ammunition on the crowd. Makarios – still inside the church structure – was shot dead. His friend Malak (pictured), who had traveled from the same village with him, was also killed.
The video and photo below show Makarios’ friends constructing the church prior to the attack.
Tear gas clouded the streets of Talbiya, a suburb of Cairo, at 4 a.m. on November 24. Protestors ran and covered their heads to shield themselves from incoming crossfire. Woman screamed after every crackle of gunfire. Two young men were shot dead. More than 100 were injured.
“We didn’t know where to go,” said Coptic activist Wagih Yacoub who appeared at the scene to video the chaos and expose it to the world. “A guy had been shot in the leg and we tried to carry him off the street. In one direction police were shooting, and in the other they had barricaded the street to arrest anyone trying to flee. We hid under a vehicle lying flat on our bellies for two hours. Eventually we were able to get out when things calmed.”
One hundred and sixty-eight people were arrested that day, including more than twenty minors. At a demonstration held at Cairo’s High Court, its organizer, Dr. Naguib Ghobrial, demanded the release of the minors and the prosecution of the Governor of Giza who he said had authorized the use of live ammunition.
At the protest, I met a grieve-stricken mother, “I went to visit the children in the hospital. There are thirty-eight of them, and more in the prisons. We want to free our kids. Why do they have our kids?” Mona Farous lamented to me.
In the video below, police handcuffed an injured protestor to his hospital bed. After weeks of demonstrations by Egypt’s Christians, the prisoners were finally released.
Egyptian security forces attacked Coptic protestors with live ammunition on November 24 (see details posted on April 12). In these videos, Egyptian police surround the church and throw stones at protestors. In the first video, it would appear that a full-out war has erupted in Giza.
According to reliable reports, four Coptic Christians were killed in the protests, including three young men and a four-year-old child who suffocated from tear gas. One hundred and sixty eight Copts were arrested, including more than 20 minors under the age of 18 who were sent to Al-Marg Juvenile Detention Center.
While most attacks against Egypt’s Coptic Christians are committed by Muslim mob violence, the Talbiya attack on unarmed protestors was the first incident in recent memory authorized by branches of the Egyptian government and carried out by Egyptian security forces. Anti-Christian persecution in Egypt reached a new level, as Copts were no longer merely discriminated against, but were in fact being targeted and murdered by the government.