(AINA) — Thousands of Christians, joined by many Muslims, have been staging sit-in since March 5 in front of the Egyptian TV building on the Nile Corniche in Cairo, protesting the attack on the church in the village of Soul and the inaction of the Egyptian armed forces in preventing the Muslims from torching and demolishing the church and terrorizing the Christian Copts and forcing them to evacuate the village.
The church, which has been completely demolished, has been used by Muslims to pray there to humiliate the Copts said the protesters.
The protesters were joined by 15 priests, including priests from the demolished St. Mina and St. George’s church in Soul, Atfif in Hewan, 30 kilometers from Cairo, blocked the path to the main October and May 15 bridges. Some of the Coptic youth lay in the middle of the roads to prevent cars from passing, which brought traffic in this busy area of Cairo to a stand still for hours.
The demonstrators accused government officials of complicity and silence to the exposure of Copts to violence and looting and demanded the recovery of their church, which was razed and taken over Muslims while under the sight of the Egyptian army. They held banners and chanted “We want our rights” and “Demolish our churches or our homes, the Coptic voice will not abate.”
Father Filopareer Gamil of Giza Coptic Dioceses read the Coptic demands on behalf of protesters. “Since yesterday (March 5) we have been crying out in vain to the armed forces to issue a statement to protect our rights and our homes.” Coptic Demands are mainly for the church to be rebuilt on the same location and same dimensions (now an empty plot of land,) as well as the torched affiliated community services building; Christians to be allowed from immediate effect to pray again there even in a tent until the new church has been built; to secure the return of more than 7000 Copts who were terrorized and forcibly displaced from the village; compensation for all Copts affected by the incident; prosecution of the perpetrators and inciters of the church attack.
To pacify the Copts, Field Marshall Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, issued a statement that the torched church would be rebuilt by Easter, at the expense of the army.
Outspoken Father Metias Nasr, priest of St. Mary’s Church in Ezbet el Nakhl, who also joined the sit-in, told the Egyptian daily newspapers Elyom 7 on Sunday “To remain silent while violence is taking place in the village of Soul raises question marks for many, and we will sit-in until our demands are met. We got yesterday a promise to return to the land of the church to worship, which did not happen, on the contrary, individuals who burned the Church came and established Islamic rituals of prayers.”
The St. Mina and St. George’s church incident was triggered by a relationship between Ashraf Iskander, a 40-year-old married man and a Muslim married woman (AINA 3-5-2011). A video shows the demolition of Church and the sounds of the Imam’s call of “Allahu Akbar” from the mosque speakers while Muslims are destroying the church walls.
Father Yosha, the priest who was inside the Church, escaped the fire which destroyed the church, along with three deacons who were with him, through the roof of the burning church, leaping to the roof of the neighboring house, owned by Muslims, who helped and protected him from being assaulted by the mob as he left.
The village residents, priests and the Bishop appealed in vain to the armed forces, stationed only 7 km away from Soul in the village of Borombol to intervene. In an interview with Freecopts, Bishop Theodosius, Bishop of Giza, said “We called the commanders of the army in charge of the region of Helwan and Borombol, and the leaders of the national security. They subsequently sent the army. When the army arrived at the village of Soul, it fired in the air and the Muslim mob dispersed. However, about half-an-hour later, the mob reassembled and began to burn the church in presence of the army. The army sent a fire truck that extinguished the fire, but thereafter the army began to protect the Muslims who were destroying the church. Meanwhile, the army prevented the Christians from reaching the church, when they attempted to extinguish the fire and end the destruction of their church. Thus, the Muslims were allowed to destroy the church under the protection of the Egyptian army.” (complete Freecopts interview with English sub-titles http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LMJYCpJA5A&feature=player_embedded#at=16).
Father Balamon, one of the torched church pastors said that because the army did not intervene when the mob demolished the church, the Muslims were emboldened on Saturday and attacked Christian homes and looted everything inside.
On Saturday there was a mass evacuation of terrorized Copts. One village witness told activist Mariam Ragy that there is hardly a female left in the village now as Muslims threatened to rape Coptic women, and only males are left behind inside their homes.
The army has imposed a media black-out on the village; journalists have been prevented from entering the village and one journalist had his camera confiscated.
A delegation of priests met on Sunday midnight with Prime Minister Dr. Essam Sharaf in his home, who promised to contact Field Marshall Tantawi on Monday morning to make sure that his promises regarding the torched church will be kept.
By Mary Abdelmassih