Church and civil society movements and organisations have criticised security forces’ handling of sectarian tensions as it “allows perpetrators to escape punishment”.
On Friday, security forces, led by Minya’s chief of police for the north region, raided a building affiliated to the Maghagha archbishopric in Minya. During the raid, security forces seized belongings and assaulted youth inside the church house, according to the archbishopric’s statement.
The archbishopric considers the raid a “blatant assault” on Christian holy sites and religious rituals that are protected under the constitution. It added: “This assault includes an assault on Coptic citizens and on the rights of citizenship and indiscrimination between citizens.”
Security forces claimed the building is unlicensed, a point contested by the archbishopric as it published letters to inform the security forces they were holding masses and prayers at the church.
The Maghagha archbishopric called on President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, Minister of Interior Magdy Abdel Ghaffar and Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat to open investigations into the incident of the church’s raid. The archbishopric also requested that the participants in the raid be penalised, according to the statement issued on Saturday.
“The security crackdown on Maghagha church is considered a silent agreement with radical beliefs,” said Amir Ayad from the Maspero Youth Union, a movement of youth
He told Daily News Egypt that the raid, led by the chief of police, could not be conducted without direct orders from Minya’s security directorate chief. Ayad added that “we will not back down before putting him to trial”.
He added that the raid is considered another episode of complicity between security leaders and radical Salafi leaders.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) called on responsible authorities in a statement on Tuesday to investigate the responsibility of local security of the raid.
The incident follows an attack on a church, also in Minya, under construction a week before the Friday attack where scores of mostly young Muslims gathered in after midday prayer, demonstrating in front of the church. Later in the night, a smaller number of anonymous militants attacked the church with Molotov cocktails. In the attack, seven people were injured and one car was left burning.
Coptic residents bought land and started the church’s construction, sparking protests from Muslim residents who were angered by the church’s presence. The Muslim residents were unhappy at the church’s proposed presence and its position at the entrance to the village.
After the attack on the church, Minya’s governor conducted a meeting on Saturday with Coptic and Muslim residents to resolve the issue. An initial agreement was reached to change the church’s position from the village’s entrance, according to Ishak Ibrahim, researcher at EIPR.
In its Tuesday statement, EIPR said that such customary solutions witness “the more powerful party imposing its unconstitutional and illegal conditions over the less powerful which allows perpetrators to escape punishment”.
Almost a week before the attack, another one targeted the Church of the Virgin Mary in Samalout near to Minya. Assailants attacked the church using Molotov Cocktails and stones.
The attackers were protesting violently against a decision by the Minya governor to allow the restoration of the church, where prayers have been held since 1977. The protests came despite several customary reconciliation sessions held by security authorities, which witnessed the Coptic community agreeing to the majority of the Muslims’ conditions.
Ayad insists that these sessions are violating the very idea of the “state of law”. He highlighted that the Minya governorate has the highest number of attacks on Copts since the dispersal of pro-Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in August 2013 following the ouster of their government a month earlier.