Egypt Independent

Copts gather in Tahrir to protest purported attack on monastery

Around 2000 Copts gathered on Wednesday in Tahrir Square to protest reports that an Egyptian army unit had attacked the Monastery of Saint Pishoy in the Nitrian Desert earlier on Wednesday.

Protesters said that a military unit using armored vehicles had demolished newly-built fences surrounding the old Coptic monastery. They claimed that the soldiers fired live bullets at monks. They added that two had been injured and transferred to the Anglo-American hospital in Cairo.

Al-Masry Al-Youm failed to independently verify the reports about the injured monks.

"The army told the monasteries to protect themselves, so the monks tried to build a fence after the release of prisoners from Wadi Natrun. Then the army starting attacking the monastery," said Yasser Farag, 37, a Coptic engineer who went to the monastery after the attack.  

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has governed the country since the 11 February ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak, said on its official page on Facebook that soldiers had removed "some walls that had been illegally built on the road and on land owned by the state."

The SCAF denied claims that the armed forces had been involved in attacks on the monastery or that it had any intention to demolish the building due to its “belief in freedom and the sanctity of places of worship."

The SCAF had previously issued a strongly-worded warning to groups involved in illegal practices, stressing that these groups would be dealt with firmly to "fully eliminate this phenomenon."

Egypt's Coptic Christians have long complained about a law that requires them to obtain state approval for any construction or additions to churches or monasteries.

The demonstration began at around 6PM in St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, a residence of the Coptic papacy. Protesters marched to Tahrir Square half an hour before the start of midnight's military curfew.

"I object to the army destroying monasteries" and "What a shame; they are shooting Christians," read two banners in the demonstration. Protesters chanted, "Oh Tantawi, why does the army attack the monastery."

Ministry of Defense Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi currently presides over the SCAF.

The incident comes less than 24 hours after the murder of a Coptic Christian priest in the Upper Egyptian city of Assiut.

According to the slain priest's neighbors, four people killed the Coptic cleric in his home while "chanting Islamic slogans."

The priest's funeral on Wednesday witnessed clashes between angry Copts and a number of local Muslim shopkeepers as they marched in the funeral procession.

"Egyptians went to the streets to ask for freedoms and we are still being targeted. We want freedom for us as well. We are Egyptian and we will remain in this land forever," said Wagdy Waheed, a Coptic student.

Security force presence in Egypt remains weakened as the majority of police forces in major cities have failed to resume operations since their withdrawal from Egyptian cities on 28 January.

After massive waves of demonstrations, protests, marches, and strikes that lasted for 18 consecutive days, Mubarak was finally forced to step down earlier this month after 30 years in office.