By continuing your visit to this site, you accept the use of cookies. These ensure the smooth running of our services. Learn more.

11 November 2007

Sectarian violence in Gabal-al-Teir, Minya : Truck loads of violence

6db2e1b2c589ad784fffe7c3176a2669.jpgThe rocky Gabal-al-Teir (Mountain of the Birds) towers high above the lush green fields on the eastern bank of the Nile valley in Samalout, Minya, in Upper Egypt. Perched right on top is

the breathtakingly beautiful Monastery of the Holy Virgin. And around the monastery is the village of Gabal-al-Teir which has a predominantly Coptic population of some 7000 residents.
Further down on the mountainside, a mere 150 metres down, lies the village al-Abed with a population of some 500 Muslims. The monastery, which was built on one of the spots where the Holy Family rested on its flight into Egypt some two millennia ago, is a popular destination for religious tourism, receiving more than two million visitors a year, especially during feasts of the holy Virgin.

In 2003, the bishopric of Samalout purchased a 23-feddan piece of land south of the monastery to use as a cemetery for Copts and to house a few small enterprises. The area had been targeted for development by the government as a tourist destination and LE10 million were allocated for that purpose. The bishopric obtained all the necessary permits and proceeded to build a fencing wall around the land. Twice the wall was built, and both times it was attacked and pulled down by the Muslim villagers. The security authorities intervened and promised they would protect the site and allow the church to build the wall. But in 2004 the Copts were banned from building the wall for security reasons.
In June 2007 Minya governor Fouad Saad-Eddin gave the bishopric permission to resume building the fence. Two months ago, Muslim villagers again pulled it down. The police interfered and apologised to the bishopric, but no action was taken against the offenders.

In the meantime, trouble was brewing close by. Gamil Naguib Ghobrial, a 47 year-old Copt who had long been trusted by the bishopric and was in charge of certain of its financial affairs, proved untrustworthy and fell out of favour with the bishopric. Ghobrial collaborated with a Muslim called Omran Ali Arafat to imply to the residents of al-Abed that the bishopric intended to purchase a five-feddan-land which lies on the mountainside between Gabal-al-Teir and Abed. This piece of land is public property and the Copts of Gabal-al-Teir used it as a passage-way down to their fields by the river. Upon hearing the rumour that the bishopric intended to purchase it, the Muslims tried to seize the land thus effectively blocking the path of the Copts downhill. The Copts opposed the move and tried to prevent it.

At around 6:00pm on Thursday 25 October, the Coptic villagers were attacked by the Muslim residents of eight neighbouring villages. Armed with weapons and machine guns, they converged on Gabal-al-Teir and began shooting at the Copts. An eyewitness said that attackers were brought in successive truckloads while some other Muslims in ferries along the Nile. In the total absence of any police, four Copts were injured, and the Muslim mob pulled down the fencing wall which the bishopric had rebuilt. When a representative of the bishopric, Fayeq Wilson, rushed to report the violence to the police he was detained. Much later, he was set free.

The police arrived two hours later, after the major part of the wall was demolished, and cordoned off Gabal-al-Teir. This practically imprisoned the Copts inside their village and at the same time gave the Muslim mob a free hand to burn the Coptic-owned fields which lie down the hill, by the river bank. The fields were set aflame, plants were uprooted, the irrigation pumps looted and stolen—a pump costs some LE4,000 to LE5,000, quite a lot of money for the poor peasants—and two half-trucks owned by Copts were attacked. One was a newly-renovated vehicle, and its cost was to be paid in monthly instalments; it was burnt. Eighteen people were lightly injured and later treated at Samalout Central Hospital. The police allowed the mob to finish off the work of demolishing the fencing wall—eyewitnesses claim the police actually helped with the task until the wall was completely destroyed and the guard’s room burnt.

The following day the police detained 22 Copts and 19 Muslims. While Gabal al-Teir was still besieged, some Muslims attacked neighbouring villages, they burnt two houses of Copts in Gabal al-Teir Bahari and some irrigation pumps.
Samalout prosecution, headed by Osama Abdel-Moniem, questioned the detainees, charging them with pre-meditated destruction, arson, trouble-making and disrupting public order. Their detention was further extended for a week.

Security officials insisted on holding a reconciliation meeting on Saturday. It was attended by 12 Copts,12 Muslims and MPs, but none of the Coptic clergy; Fayeq Wilson went on their behalf. It was agreed that the fence must be built three meters inland, meaning the bishopric should give up 50m x 3m of its land. A penalty of LE100,000 was to be paid by whichever party broke the reconciliation, but no compensation was to be paid to the Copts for the damages they had incurred.

Eyewitness reports

Atef A. told Watani how he, together with all the villagers of Gabal-al-Teir, were attacked on Thursday evening through to Friday morning. “The attackers shot at us for no reason whatsoever,” he said. “The police arrived and besieged the region. Then, under the very sight of the police, the Abed villagers destroyed the wall, pulled out our plants, and burnt our land.” Atef said that he and his fellow-villagers could not go down to tend their land; they had to agree to the reconciliation in order to resume their bread-winning activity.

Barakat Hanna, whose half-truck was destroyed, has six children, two boys and four girls; the eldest is 13. “That truck was my only source of livelihood,” he lamented. “I was driving on the road and, before reaching al-Abed I was stopped by some people who accused me of being from the monastery. They forced me to leave the truck, beat me up and destroyed the vehicle completely. My son was screaming in terror.” Hanna was never compensated for his loss.

After a large number of people were detained, Magdy Y. told Watani, a state of disquiet and wariness dominated the village; people were afraid even to talk.

Father Ishaq Mahrous, pastor of the church at Gabal al-Teir Bahari, told Watani that the Copts in the village number some 2,000 against some 5,000 Muslims. Before the firemen arrived, Ishaq Shaker’s house had already burnt. “Shaker is a poor and sick man, Fr Ishaq said. He has three children, and the church helps him out financially. Further losses involved the destruction of the plants in the fields of Emad Azzam, Saad Abu-Naguib and Gayed Andrawis, and the burning of livestock huts in the fields.

Noshi Adly, the village bailiff, said that Gameel Naguib was the culprit behind the sedition; he is a trouble-maker, Adly said.
Fr Dawoud Nashid and Fr Morqos Emil told Watani Samalout bishopric had purchased the land in question to build a new cemetery for the Copts instead of the old one which the government said would have to be relocated for the purpose of the upcoming developing of the region. As to the recent violence, they commented, the security intervention had saved the village from more tragic consequences.

Wilson said everyone was now waiting for the release of the detainees who, he insisted, had nothing to do with any unrest; they were just passing by.
MP Alaa’ Makadi criticised the local authorities for failing to clearly draw the borders of the villages, which left the five-feddan piece of land open to dispute. He said that the quickly-planned reconciliation meeting was for the sake of containing the crisis.

POSTED BY /http://www.wataninet.com

16:00 Posted in Egypt | Permalink | Comments (0) | Tags: EGYPT, COPTIC, COPTS, UPPER EGYPT |  Facebook |

The comments are closed.