Muslims, Christians Clash Over ‘Martyrs’ Church’ Construction

ICC Note: In a village where 13 families had their loved ones brutally executed for their faith, the hostility is not just confined to the ISIS terrorist group, but their neighbors are also opposing them simply because they are Christians. A church to be built in memory of the 13 martyrs prompted a mob to gather and it turned violent before 17 were arrested and the Christians were forced to alter their plans, being allowed to build only a one-story building with no church bell.

05/13/2015 Egypt (Al-Monitor) Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s decision to build a church bearing the names of the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians who were beheaded in a video that surfaced on social media on Feb. 15 by the Islamic State in Libya, is not being well received by members of the local community.

The absence of a law regulating the construction of houses of worship generally, specifically churches, has placed the matter in the hands of hard-line religious groups. Reconciliation sessions, which have become commonplace and in many cases have replaced the law in Upper Egypt, are held to make peace between conflicting families or groups. The sessions are also held to prevent sectarian strife, further infringing on the rule of law.

The presidential decision issued Feb. 16 to build a church dubbed “Martyrs’ Church” for the slain Copts in el-Our village — the hometown of 13 of the victims — in Egypt’s Minya province was rejected by some hard-line Muslims inhabiting the village. The hard-line Muslims demonstrated in protest of the decision during a customary reconciliation session held between them and Copts, according to eyewitnesses and Coptic activists who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity.

Egyptian news websites reported on March 28 that clashes erupted between some Muslims and Christians in a dispute over building the church, resulting in 12 wounded and seven arrested.

Subsequent to the clashes, Minya’s governor gathered men from both sides and held a customary reconciliation session to mend fences and to reach a solution satisfactory to both sides. However, on April 4, limited clashes were renewed, prompting the police to tighten their grip and arrest 17 more people.

“They [the Muslim side] stipulated that the building be of one floor, and without a dome or a cross, in addition to not sounding the church bell,” Naguib Gabriel, chairman of the Egyptian Union for Human Rights, told Al-Monitor, lamenting the furor that surrounded building the church. Gabriel added that although the foundation stone was laid, “I do not believe the building will be completed under such a hard-line religious culture.”

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