55. The ‘Umrāniyyah Riots

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Al-Musawwar magazine provides a recap of the ‘Umrāniyyah riots, in which two Coptic Christians were killed and over 150 arrested during clashes with police following the stoppage of an illegal church construction outside Cairo on November 24...


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In this feature article appearing in al-Musawwar, ‘Imād Habīb says that the families of young Copts arrested during the ‘Umrāniyyah riots hold Father Mīnā Zarīf responsible, saying that he could have prevented the riots had he wished to do so. ‘Imād says that both Muslims and Copts in ‘Umrāniyyah are deeply saddened by the events.


A church worker told ‘Imād that Copts tried unsuccessfully to acquire a building permit for a church building, but that leaders subsequently decided to build a service center and apply later for the permit to be changed. According to Father Zarīf, Giza Governor Sayyid ‘Abd al-‘Azīz had agreed to allow the service center to be turned into a church on the night before the riots. However, a number of police officers along with bulldozers showed up at the site the next day, demanding that everyone leave the premises. Naturally, says Zarīf, the builders protested.


A man who lives near the church said that large groups of Copts had been protesting at the site for three days before the incident. ‘Imād claims that Copts have been such thigns for a long time and that it always ends with a confrontation with Muslim neighbours or government authorities.


Bishop Bīsantī of Helwan said that the only solution is to implement a unified law for places of worship, such as those proposed by Dr. ‘Utayfī in 1972, Dr. Ahmad Kamāl Abū al-Majd in 2005, and Muhammad Juwaylī in 2005. Dr. Kamāl Bāsīlī explains that the reason behind the illegal building of churches is that former President Sādāt promised Copts he would allow the building of 50 new churches every year. Coptic activist Kamāl Zākhir went further, saying that the solution lies not only in a unified law, but also in the establishment of a truly secular state.


Midhat recalls his last visit to ‘Umrāniyyah, an area where the majority of residents are from Upper Egypt. He attended a friend's wedding that ended in a knife and gun fight over a disagreement regarding the kind of sweets served at the celebration. He says that it is these same kind of people who were extremely offended by the government attack on the church and wrongly perceived it as an attack on themselves and their faith.


He then points out the shockingly small number of schools, cultural centers, and sporting clubs in ‘Umrāniyyah, as well as the fact that there are no hospitals. Midhat claims that those involved in the incident should be more concerned about this fact.


He then questions why the Giza Governorate would be in such a hurry to stop the illegal building of a church in a district with only 8 churches, but 360 mosques. In the end, Midhat blames the individual government employee for refusing to issue a church building permit and also the Copts for attempting to circumvent the law.

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