Copts tell us that it is not uncommon in Egypt that Copts have made use of moments of unrest to quickly realize structures for which otherwise permissions would have had to be requested. In the past they were often able to get away with this. The army is, however, not willing to let this go and showed willingness to destroy newly erected buildings. AWR managing editor Hani Labib asked a friend of his, a monk at the monastery of Saint Bīshūy who provided the monastery’s version of the events. AWR has undertaken considerable editing of grammar, spelling, and phrasing, but the facts as presented by the monk remain unchanged.
The Monastery of Saint Bīshūy, is located in Wādī al-Naṭrūn, Beheira, Egypt, 120 kilometers Northwest of Cairo. It was built in the fourth Century AD and is inhabited by 160 monks, living in its cells and within the surrounding wall.
During the regime of former President Muhammad Ḥusnī Mubārak it was acknowledged that even monasteries in the desert would not be safe without a police guard. Therefore, authorities sent a group of police to guard the entrances to monasteries all over Egypt as protection from attack by foreign groups.
During the revolution in Egypt that began on January 25, 2011, all the officers and their men left their positions, leaving the [Monasteries’] gates with no protection. This occurred as security collapsed all over Egypt, when a flood of prisoners escaped from their jails, most of which are located around the Wādī al-Naṭrūn desert.
This situation, combined with the expectation of attacks from prisoners on the run created an insecure environment for all the monasteries. The Monastery of Saint Bīshūy was obliged to take quick action to close all the roads and paths which could enable any foreigner to get inside and threaten the lives of the monks. Therefore, workers from the monastery quickly built walls on two sides of the monastery, each half-a-kilometer beyond the existing wall, and installed a new metal gate. This took place during the first week in February.
The army groups taking care of the desert these days [AWR: it should be noted that Egypt has been under military rule since Friday, February 11, the army has been deployed since January 29] passed by to see what was going on, and were informed that this was a matter involving the monastery’s security during the absence of the police.
A week after the visit of the first army group, the captain of that group returned seeking to demolish the gate and the walls on the grounds that the police would return soon, but his request was refused by the monks.
Army vehicles full of soldiers attacked the monastery gate 10 am on Saturday, February 19, 2011, and demolished the gate and all its walls, without addressing anyone or negotiating anything with the monks.
The monastery’s management disliked that very much and tried to restore the gate as much as possible.
Today, Wednesday February 23, 2011, seven military vehicles and around 50 armed soldiers attacked the same gate and started to fire. They used RPG fire to keep the area free for them, allowing the armed vehicles to destroy the gate and its walls.
The firing lasted for one-and-a-half hours and ended with the gate demolished and seven casualties among monks and workers.
The two youths who were critically injured (one was a worker, and the other a monastery visitor) suffered while they rushed to the walls following the ringing of the church bells. One monk was running and then fell and broke his leg. Another monk received a superficial wound from a rubber bullet, and two others were detained in the hospital due to a herniated disc condition and high blood pressure.
Contrary to some reports, the soldiers did not shout Islamic slogans as they demolished the wall.
This is the first time we have heard of live fire from Egyptian military forces against monks, even as they defended the work of their wall in a peaceful manner. It was wrong to see such a huge force armed with guns as if they were coming to attack a serious enemy and not poor monks living in the desert while seeking to worship God and not creating problems for anyone.
May God bless Egypt as His promise, Timon al-Suriany.