CAIRO: In the ongoing dispute over the land surrounding the Virgin Mary Church in Alexandria, Al Kalima Center for Human Rights presented a memo to President Hosni Mubarak reasserting the church’s legal ownership of it.
The memo, which was drafted by vice president of Al Kalima Center Joseph Malak, includes historical and legal accounts that prove the church’s ownership of the land.
The disputed piece of land surrounds the church’s current premises in Maamoura. According to the memo, it was taken over by Al Maamoura Company for Housing and Development, triggering a dispute between Pope Shenouda and Adel Labib, the governor of Alexandria.
The church was first built in 1969 on a small piece of land, but due to the increasing number of worshippers, in 1980, the church requested that the governorate allocate an additional piece of land.
The governorate’s executive council officially granted the Virgin Mary Church 983 square meters of land on Feb. 2, 1980, according to decision no. 119.
Subsequently, after forming a joint committee from the city council, including members of the legal affairs, planning and budget committees, the deputy head of the Housing Ministry at the time notified the head of security of Alexandria of the allocation decision no. 831.
The memo pointed to the fact that between 1982 and 2000 the land wasn’t handed over to the church to start building, despite a ruling from the State Council’s General Fatwa Assembly and its Legislation Committee stipulating that land allocation by the governorate is equivalent to official documented ownership of the church, given that there is a license to build.
“Consequently, on Feb. 19, 2000, the church requested the governorate to issue the license that was certified on Jan. 1, 2000. The church then asked the city council to erect a one-meter fence around the land, a decision that the governorate agreed to on July 18, 2001, the memo read.
Meanwhile, Al-Maamoura Company for Housing and Development claimed the land belongs to the company, not the governorate.
According to Awad Morkos, the church’s lawyer, the disputed land is part of a larger area originally allocated for public benefit, and currently housing a government building and a call center.
However, the company is only claiming ownership of the area allocated for the church. The company has also started cultivating a nursery on the land.
“They [the company officials] deceived the church; they first told us that they want to come in to dig out some plants but instead they planted some more and now they do not want to leave, Priest Flopatir of the Virgin Mary Church, told Daily News Egypt.