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Dispute over land, again

ICC Note

In Egypt , Coptic Christians are finding it difficult to get land for construction of churches and cemeteries.

By Nader Shukry

November 20, 2007 Egypt (Watani)With the recent dispute between Matrouh governorate and St Marina’s Church near Al-Alamein over land ownership still fresh in mind—and still unresolved—another similar situation erupted in South Sinai.

This time the dispute concerned a piece of land allocated by the South Sinai governorate to the church of Mar-Girgis and Mar-Mina—still under construction—in Ras-Sudr on the east coast of the Gulf of Suez.

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Hedge destroyed

Father Ibrahim, priest of St George and St Mina’s, told Watani that the allocation decision issued by the State cited the allotment of an area of 100m x 100m to the church. It included a building permit for a church over 1000sq.m. of the land, with the remaining plot to be used as a garden or ‘landscape’.

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Mr Nasr-Eddin told Watani that the plants were bulldozed as a measure to protect State property, since the Church had trespassed on land which lay outside the border of the 25m x 40m, that is the 1000sq.m. plot officially allocated to it. He said there would have been no problem allocating more land to the church, but the Church did not attempt to ask for that land lawfully. “These matters are simply solved by positive dialogue,” he added.

Who’s right?

Fr Ibrahim vehemently denies that the Church laid hands on some 6,000sq.m. of land it did not own. He insists the church was allocated 100m x 100m of land, with a building permit on 1000sq.m. of it. With public roads running along the northern, eastern, and southern boundaries of the building, the remaining part allocated to the church could only be to the west—which was where they had begun planting the garden, he explained.

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No cemetery

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At present, Fr Ibrahim said, Copts have to travel to their hometowns in the Nile Valley or Delta to bury their dead and, given the normally hot climate in Egypt , bodies sometimes deteriorate by the time the burial destination is reached. “A popular Egyptian proverb says. ‘A dead person is honoured by prompt burial,’ and we are not even allowed to do that,” Fr Ibrahim complains.

When Watani asked Mr Nasr-Eddin about the situation, he said that a plot of 1,000 sq.m. would be allocated as a graveyard for the Copts. “This should be enough for the present Coptic population which amounts to some 70 families, and the area may be extended in the future if more Copts move in,” he said.

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