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Muslim rioters who torched it had declared mosque would be built on site

4/27/2011 Egypt (Compass Direct News) – Fewer than 40 days after a mob of Muslim villagers in Egypt left a church’s building in ruins, the congregation celebrated Easter on Sunday (April 24) in a reconstructed building at the same site.

The reconstruction of the church building by the Egyptian military gave Christians in Egypt cause to celebrate, but it came during a new outbreak of sectarian violence across the country.

The Rev. Balamoun Youakeem, head parish priest for the Church of the Two Martyrs St. George and St. Mina in the village of Sool, located in Helwan 35 kilometers (22 miles) south of Cairo, said the reconstruction was finished in “amazing time.”

“Everything is back to normal,” he said. “They even did nice decoration work, wood work, on the altar cover. It cost them a lot of money; the church looks beautiful at the moment.”

Youakeem said the rebuilding was carried out over the objections of villagers who protested outside a meeting of military leaders and traditional village elders. The villagers stood outside the meeting chanting, “We don’t want the church,” according to Youakeem.

Riots and Burning

The church was attacked on the evening of March 4, after an imam told Muslim villagers to “Kill all the Christians” in response to a rumor of an affair between a Muslim man and a Christian woman, both married to other people. The rioters set fire to the church and demolished a large part of what was left by hand and with sledgehammers.

They then set up a sign declaring the site to be the “Rahmah Mosque” and held a prayer service inside the church ruins.

The villagers had rampaged through the area attacking Christian-owned homes, and some sexually assaulted several Christian women, according to area residents. Many Christians fled their homes in fear of further attacks.

Two days later, 2,000 Coptic Christians gathered outside the Radio and Television Building in Cairo to protest the lack of government response to the attack. On March 6, at a protest outside an area of Cairo commonly known as Garbage City, groups of Coptic men and teens blocked traffic and eventually pelted passing cars with rocks. Government troops moved in to stop the protest, and in the ensuing melee with Muslim counter-protestors, 13 Copts were killed and between 50 and 100 people were injured. Around this time, the army committed to reconstructing the church building.

Youakeem said he initially didn’t think the church building would be rebuilt. While mosques are often built without permission and the government pays the salaries of approved imams, it is notoriously difficult to get a permit to do even the most basic of repairs on church buildings.

“When the church was demolished, the hope to rebuild it was so small,” he said. “This is our miracle.”

An example of how hard it can be to repair a church building in Egypt can be found in an incident surrounding the Virgin Mary and Archangel Church in Omraniya, Giza. In November 2010, two Copts were killed and dozens were injured in a protest after local authorities stopped construction at the church site claiming renovations did not match permits the government had granted.

Church officials said repeatedly that they had permits for the construction but never publically addressed the issue of the alleged discrepancy.

Also, on Feb. 17 in the village of El-Hathatah near Minya, 231 kilometers (144 miles) south of Cairo, a group of townspeople attacked the congregation of St. George’s Church with bricks and rocks. Townspeople were angry about a roof the congregation was constructing next to the church building with local government permission. Eventually area police had to step in to stop the attacks.

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