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Problems on hold

ICC Note

In Egypt , Muslims are illegally seizing lands belonging to Christians and constructing mosques on the usurped lands.

By Youssef Sidhom

October 16, 2007 Egypt (Watani)-A malicious ploy that has become all-too-familiar in case of usurping land in Egypt is for the usurper to claim that the land would be used to establish a mosque or an Islamic school. This despite the fact that al-Azhar issued several fatwas stipulating that buildings for religious purposes are not to be erected on usurped land, and that prayers on the same are unacceptable. On the ground, the ploy is unfailing; it intimidates the authorities and practically ties their hands if they dare consider returning the land to their rightful owners.

The memory of the dispute over a piece of land owned by a church and seized by a neighbouring mosque is still fresh in mind. The land in question lay in the area between the church and the mosque. With the courteous consent of the Church, the mosque officials would spread a marquee across the land to shelter Friday worshippers who could not be accommodated inside the mosque. A few years later, the Church officials were horrified to find the land being suddenly prepared to house a direct extension of the mosque building. Disputes erupted and, despite the Church’s unequivocal right to the land, the local and security authorities—mind you, not the judicial—intervened and pressured the Church into selling its land to the mosque.

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Since it pays so well to violate the law, it comes as no surprise that the incident—or rather the catastrophe—should recur. Last week Watani wrote on the latest details in the case of Ezbet Hanna Ayoub (Hanna Ayoub’s hamlet) in Mallawi, Minya, Upper Egypt . The tiny hamlet is inhabited by 29 Christian families who know of no other home; a family in rural Egypt is an extended family, with no less than some 20 members. Their parents and grandparents had always lived there adjacent to what had once been a swamp in the property of the large landowner family of Hanna Ayoub. Being among the poorest of the peasants, the landowners promised them they could live on, build homes and rear livestock on that spot once they managed to fill the swamp. So the land they today live on was never ‘land’ in the first place; these people had salvaged it from the swamp.

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The Land Reclamation Authority procrastinated on the issue until last year, when it sold the 20 qirats to one Taher Abdel-Hafez Stouhi, a land owner, resident of the nearby village of al-Birka and head of the Islamic Society there, to build an Islamic Azhari institute. No-one could figure out the logic behind building an Islamic school in a predominantly Coptic village, and worse, it was to be built on land usurped from the Copts. The peasants’ houses were bulldozed but, even then, they refused to give up their land, stayed on and tried to rebuild their homes. The case of the disputed land is now in court.

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I present this disgraceful disaster—I do not term it a case—to human rights activists, and call upon them to move swiftly before 29 families are rendered homeless by a governor in sheep’s clothing.

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