State security agents in the upper Egyptian city of Luxor destroyed an Anglican church and assaulted the church’s pastor when he tried to save the building last week.
Pastor Mahrous Karam of the Anglican Church in Luxor reported that he was still negotiating with city authorities about replacing the community center building on the church’s compound the day before the demolition occurred. Authorities said they were still considering the options, according to Karam.
But the next morning, March 18, without warning, hundreds of security personnel blocked the road leading to the church and dragged the pastor’s family out of their residence. The pastor’s wife, Sabah, said two men used force to remove her from the home, including slapping her face, pulling her by her clothes, and dragging her by her hair.
"They threatened that if I do not leave the place they would take my 3-year-old boy and throw him under the bulldozers which came for the demolition work," she told Freecopts. "Twenty traumatized children were dragged out of the attached nursery and thrown into the church hall."
All the family’s possessions were thrown in the street and they are now homeless.
"I believe they wanted to give us an Easter present, the way they gave the Copts of Nag Hammadi the Christmas Eve Massacre," she said bitterly.
Gunmen in several cars opened fired on Coptic and Eastern Orthodox Christians in Nag Hammadi who were celebrating their Christmas Eve on Jan. 6. Six Christians were killed, mostly young men in their 20s, from the attack.
The Christmas Eve attack was the worst assault on Copts in Egypt since January 2000, when 21 Christians were killed in sectarian violence.
During last week’s persecution incident, Pastor Mahrous tried to save the buildings from being demolished by sitting on the church’s fence to block the demolition work, but he was beaten and dragged away.
The pastor said Christians simply want the same treatment as Muslims who build mosques and additions to their Islamic centers.
After the demolition, only a 400 sq. meter prayer hall is left standing out of the nearly 3,000 sq. meters of buildings attached to the church.
The governor of Luxor, Dr. Samir Farag, claims the security forces seized only one room of the Anglican church and denied his personnel assaulted the pastor’s family.
"The Governor is lying, that is why the forces blocked the road leading to the Church before their attack, so that nobody would witness their doings,” said one Anglican witness, who was not identified. “But he forgot there is the Internet and cell phone videos to show the whole world the uncivilized way Egypt deals with Christians and their places of worship."
The Anglican Church in Egypt issued a statement on March 19 condemning the actions of Luxor authorities.
Egypt’s Christian population makes up eight to 12 percent of the overall population.
Despite their sizeable number in the country, the Christian community in Egypt, which consists of mostly Coptic Christians, are marginalized in society and reportedly suffer from violent forms of abuse. They also lack fair representation in the government, leading to further abuse of the minority group.
Among the most common complaints by Copts are government obstacles when it comes to building, repairing or additions to churches. While Muslims are free to build mosques in Egypt, Christians need to obtain special government permission for any construction work done on a church. The permission is almost always not granted.
Islam is the “religion of state” and the country’s “principle source of legislation,” according to Egypt’s constitution.