Fellow of the UN High Commissioner for Minority Affairs, Joseph Malak, sent a warning on Sunday to Egypt’s Prime Minister Sherif Ismail and other officials, urging them to stop the closure of churches. He added that the government will be given one-week to reopen the closed churches and adhere to the law and constitution.
At least four churches were closed down in Minya governorate, over the past few weeks, in what was viewed, by several Copts, as a take over by extremists in Upper Egypt.
The archbishop of el-Minya governorate, Makarios, released a statement in response to the closure of the churches.
The statement said “We adhered to silence after the closure of one church, on the off chance that officials would intervene. However, this closure was followed by others, as if praying is a crime and Copts should be punished for it.”
Archbishop Makarios added that compromises are always offered for peaceful coexistence. Nonetheless, Copts are the only ones who pay for the coexistence, not the violators and extremists.
The statement listed the closed churches, with dates of their closure, according to Youm7.
On 15 October, the first church, which was previously attacked and shut down in 2015, was reopened by Copts because the government didn’t take any steps to reopen it, according to the statement. However, the worshippers were harassed and the church had to be closed down, again.
The second church was closed down on 22 October, when extremists threw stones and injured four worshippers. The extremists were not arrested.
A third church was also closed on 22 October, with no concrete reason for the closure other than security reasons to avoid possible attacks.
Following violations on the properties of Copts on 27 October, and injuring a Christian woman, security forces tightened their grip on a fourth church. However, it was not clear in the statement whether it was closed or not.
Archbishop Makarios concluded his statement saying that praying is simple and basic right to Copts and is guaranteed to them by the terms of the constitution. However, it is a concern that the extremists might have imposed their will over the states’ institutions.
According to Egypt’s constitution and a ministerial decree, all the churches in Egypt are licensed.
Naguib Gobrial, the attorney for the Orthodox Church and Coptic Christian activist, told Egyptian Streets that a couple of days ago, a church was closed down in Shubra district and worshippers were not allowed to pray. After inquiring, he knew that the order came from the National Security apparatus.
“El-Minya governorate has an abundance of extremists, and the security bodies fail to curb them. These extremists almost control the church building law,” Gobrial says.
When asked about solutions, Gobrial explained that law should be imposed and executed on anyone who might think of attacking a church and should be referred to trial. Until now, none of the extremists who attacked or violated churches were referred to court. They are not hindered by anyone and this is a result of the government policies
The other solution as suggested by Gobrial is to cultivate the culture of coexistence and eliminate the culture, in Upper Egypt specifically, that triggers hatred towards Christians. They are often viewed as blasphemous and shouldn’t be allowed to pray and have churches.
Gobrial further went on to say that the governor of el-Minya released an order to renew a church in Al-Galaa village. However, the decision was postponed for several months. On the reasons of the postponement, Gobrial said that the governor had a negotiation with extremists who were against the decision and they had multiple demands including; a door at the corner of the church for entrance and not the main gate, no cross to be placed at the top of the church, and the church bell shouldn’t ring, among other demands.
Gobrial said that the state has already taken steps for economic reform, but nothing when it comes to the Copts rights.
Copts have been subject to several deadly attacks over the past few years. In April, two bombings targeted two churches in Tanta and Alexandria, killing at least 50 and injuring more than 100. Other attacks targeted churches and worshippers.