Saturday, January 28, 2006

The mighty security apparatus

By: Youssef Sidhom

With the assault on its church on the evening of Wednesday 18 January, the village of al-Udeisat in Luxor, Upper Egypt joined a list of other Egyptian villages that had lived in age-old obscurity until some violent sectarian event moved them into the realm of international limelight. Shame indeed! Instead of gaining world renown on account of being the birthplace of a son or daughter who realise some unprecedented feat; or a site of a historic discovery, an ultra-modern facility, or a global event; these modest, hitherto unheard-of villages carved a place for themselves on the world scene as sites of ferocious violence. Mobs terrorised, injured, and murdered peaceful residents, looted their property and set it aflame, for no reason other than that these residents differed in their faith, and had the temerity to worship in small, modest churches which they built and the interior of which they renovated years later. The villages of Kafr Dimian east of the Delta, Girza in Giza, Beni-Walmes and Tahal-Aameda in Minya, Upper Egypt, have all claimed places on the world map of events throughout the last decade. Will other villages or hamlets, the names of which we never heard before, join them?

A look at the factors that led to the Udeisat attack highlights several problems, and raises the bitter question: Till when will such problems remain shelved, or placed on hold? How can the perpetrators of violence escape unquestioned and unpunished, either because the inadequacies of the security apparatus remain beyond accountability, or because of the so-called cosmetic and ineffectual “reconciliation sessions” in which the victims and attackers are brought together by the local councils for an official reconciliation following attacks.

The quasi-governmental al-Ahram Cairo daily termed the Udeisat church a ‘guest house’. This is a flagrant fallacy intended to establish the concept that the irregular worship held in the church since 1970, which was sometimes open for prayers and sometimes closed by the authorities, was illegal since the building had not been licensed as a church. It should be noted that the Udeisat church is no exception, but stands as one in a long line of churches the licensing of which was for decades placed on hold, despite arduous efforts by church officials to obtain licences. The issue exposes a morbid situation where the Constitution stipulates freedom of belief and equality between citizens regardless of their religion, while in fact the security authority grants or withholds rights of worship according to the whim of its chiefs, with ignominious bias towards one religious sector and against the other.

A series of presidential decrees was issued since February 1998, the last of which was last December, to phase out the legislative restrictions on church building, restoration and renovation. Local and security authorities however, especially in Upper Egypt, are unable to grasp that the real implication of these decrees is to establish equality between Egyptians. Instead, they hold on to their dominion over the fate of churches, those in charge of them, and their congregations. Udeisat is a case in point; no sooner had Holy Mass been conducted in the church following restorations—which, according to the last presidential decree, may be conducted once the local authorities are “informed” of them—than the district security chief dropped in. He raged at the priest for resuming religious services and left in anger, threatening that the matter will not be overlooked. So, instead of propagating among the population a culture of acceptance of the other, as implied by the presidential decrees, the security authorities—secure in their immunity to questioning or accountability—propagated an entirely different message. They made it clear that presidential decrees meant nothing to them; they were the powers that be.

Such behaviour on the part of the security authorities encouraged the fanatics in the village, who could not accept that a Christian would ever be equal to a Muslim, to conduct their infamous raid on the church. These security officials should thus be brought to account, since their attitude led the mob to understand that heinous acts against Christians would go unpunished. Other details beg explanations. Why was there no security presence whatsoever at the site of the Udeisat church following the wrathful visit of the security official? It could not have escaped the authorities that the general mood, especially between the Muslim fanatics, had become strained. And who had access to cut the electric current off the district of the church, thus facilitating its attack by the mob under the cover of the dark? Unless all the above issues are investigated transparently and candidly, similar events are sure to recur.

I do not regret my call to dedicate 2006 to the cause of national reconciliation, and am not going back on my effort to promote pro-activity between Muslims and Copts as an antidote to their mutual alienation and antagonism. But it should be very clear that the Udeisat attack is no mere antagonism; it is an act of outlawed hooliganism run wild, and should be accounted for before the law. Infringements on equality and public order cannot be forgiven, and this should in no way be confused with reconciliation.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

رســــالة طفل شـــــهيد

الطفل القبطى الشهيد جرجس شحات
بقلم : اشرف يواقيم

أنــا كنت في عمـر الورد طــفل ومليـــان أحــــــلام
ومـلاك موجــود ع الأرض بين أهلــه بخير وســــلام
قالــوا عنى وريث للمجــد وجــدودي بنــاة أهـــــرام
معرفـش طريق الحقـــد ولا يـــوم صـادفتنــي آلام
بعينـــيً الاتـنيـن شـــــفت كـان واقــع مش أوهــــام
الخـوف في بيـوت القبـط وعيـون مش قادرة تنـــام
وسـكت قلبى عـن النبض، دي حكـايتــى مـع الأيــــام
أنا شــفت الأقـصر غابــــة مليانــه وحوش وديابــــه وبتنهش في الأقبـاط
قطعـوا التليفـــون والنــور وبـإذن مـن المـــأمــــــور منعوهم م الصلـــوات
أصوات صرخـــــات وأنين تشـتكى يا مســيحي لمين؟ الظلم من الحكومـات
النــار مســـكت فـي الــدار والـدم اهـو ســـال أنهــار عودة لعهـد الغزوات
مهمـا العذابـات هتطـــــول كنيستنا دي مش ها تزول ع الصخر أساسها متين
أجـدادي كمـــان أبطـــــــال شـــهداء عـبر الأجيــــال بإيمان غلبوا الشياطين
يا صليب يفضل مرفـــــوع ونعيش على اسم يســوع مســــيحيين مـصريين
ياهاموت على اسمه شهيد وها ضيف للأعيـاد عــيـد يفرح بـه الســـمائيين

President of Cyprus accuses Turkey of destroying churches

Interfax News Agency:

President of Cyprus Tassos Papandopoulos accused Turkey of destroying churches in the northern part of the island. ‘I consider it my duty to remind of the destruction of Christian churches and desecration of the holy sanctuaries in the part of our homeland occupied by the Turkish army’, Papandopoulos said at the ceremony for the presentation of the award of the International Foundation for the Unity of Orthodox Nations held in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow

According to the head of the State of Cyprus, ‘the criminal Turkish occupation’ of the last thirty years has led to the ‘organized pillage of the Christian holy sites and systematic plundering’ of the Orthodox cultural heritage in the northern part of the Cyprus.

Earlier that same day Papandopoulos met Patriarch Alexy of Moscow and All Russia and told him that during the years of occupation about 350 Orthodox churches had been destroyed or used as entertainment facilities or even stalls for cattle.

The President of Cyprus expressed his gratitude to Alexy II for ‘unremitting attention to the destiny of the Cypriots and profound knowledge of the problems of Cyprus.’

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Video: Procession of the Martyrs

The funeral of the two Coptic martyrs in Udayssat, Luxor
Mr. Kamal Shakir
The Coptic child Guirgis Shehata who died out of fear and terror of the Muslim rampage against the Copts in Udayssat
Click here to watch the procession (Courtesy of the US Copts association)
The Coptic crowd in the procession are chanting Kiriya Eliyson "Lord Have Mercy"

Copts held the funeral at the unlicensed church , which appears to be a sign of protest against Egypt’s 150-year-old Hamayouni law that governs the building and basic upkeep of non-Muslim places of worship.
The legislation creates unequal treatment of mosque and church construction, and Copts complain that it has been abused to stifle Christian activity.

The problem of unregistered place of worship in Udaysaat is not isolated. “Most of the churches in Upper Egypt are unlicensed,” Sidhom- Editor of Watani newspaper commented to Compass.

Many churches, such as St. George’s in the Sohag province, have had their applications for official registration stalled for years by government officials.
The Coptic congregation in the village of Bani Khalid has been unsuccessfully applying for church registration since authorities closed down the church building in 1990.
St. Mary's church, in the east side of Mallawi, El Minia province has been closed since 1986 depriving over 25000 local Copts from their right of worship. All Coptic calls on the Egyptian government to reopen the church have fallen on deaf ears.

An eyewitness account of events in Luxor, Egypt

Even animals were not spared in the Luxor rampage against Copts

At around 6:30 PM on 1/18/2006, and per the orders of security officials in the village of Udayssat, electricity was deliberately cut off the entire region, five minutes later a multitude of Muslims – over 5000 of them- started their rampage against the Coptic church in the village using metal chains, swords, wood sticks and axes, nothing protected the Copts inside the church except for the grace of God and their presence inside church; despite this, around 300 Copts were injured.

Security officials blocked the wounded Copts from seeking medical help under the pretext that their names were not documented among the wounded. However, 20 of them managed to make it to the local hospital. The only ambulance that arrived to the scene was wrecked by the mob of extremists and radicals. The security chief threatened the priest in charge of the church and literally told him "The security forces are not here to protect you, but rather to prevent you from praying, and you will not be allowed to pray in church"

As for Mr. Ali Al Udayssi, the Shura Council representative of the region, he is personally involved in inciting the crowd, as a matter of fact; his father had burned the same church in 1968.

We are pleading for HELP so that the Copts of Udayssat be allowed to return back to their homes and practice their normal daily life, we are still terrified and unable to go back fearing the aggression of the Muslims of the village.

The Egyptian media has falsely reported that the burned church was a guest house, yet the church was established in 1960 and burned once in 1968 by the father of the current representative of Udassat in the Egyptian Shura Council, the church was renovated afterwards in 1969.