12/27/2017, 11.48
EGYPT
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Christmas, security forces to protect the Copts. A church destroyed near Cairo

by Loula Lahham

The building attacked by 5 thousand Muslims, furious because a bell tower was being planned. More than 250 thousand policemen and soldiers deployed to protect churches. Almost completed the work for the Coptic Orthodox cathedral in the new administrative capital, 40 km from Cairo.

Cairo (AsiaNews) - The end of year festivities - the New Year, the Coptic Christmas on 7 January and the Epiphany - are expected with an unprecedented level of alert. More than 250 thousand policemen and soldiers have renounced their holidays to ensure maximum security for churches, Christians and tourists during this New Year’s period.

Despite the heavy police presence, the church of al Amir Tadros (named after the Christian martyr beheaded under the Roman Empire), in the small village of Kafr at the Wasline, south of Cairo, was attacked and profaned on December 22nd. After Friday prayers, about 5,000 people came out of the village mosque to encircle the village's only church. In hundreds they invaded it, breaking everything they found on their path: benches, chairs, fans, microphone and speakers, liturgical clothes, crosses and icons, tents, sacred books. The building consisted of three floors and did not look like a church in the true sense of the word. It was used as a place of prayer by the Copts of the village for more than 15 years, because the Christians of the region do not own a church and no permit has yet been issued by the authorities to build one.

Some fundamentalists had circulated rumors that they were planning a bell tower. This unleashed the wrath of the Muslims, who gathered in front of the building to oppose the decision with force. The appeal to the attack had been previously published on Facebook, announcing the date and time of the attack, and the security officers had been informed. But on the fateful day the scenario was realized as planned, without any intervention by the security forces that, according to some witnesses, had disappeared: they attacked the church and the benefactor who had offered the land of the house to the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate. He and three members of his family were injured and taken to the hospital. Criminal accusations registered with a mobile phone were moved against nine suspects who have been temporarily detained. While awaiting the end of the investigation, the security forces interrupted all religious activities under the pretext of protecting the social security of the villagers. Because of this, the Copts do not know if they will be able to celebrate Christmas Mass.

The Copts, as Christians in Egypt are called, are about 10-12% of the Egyptian people and constitute the largest Christian community in the country, and also the oldest in the Middle East. They celebrate the Nativity on two dates: the Catholics celebrate December 25 according to the Gregorian calendar, while the Orthodox celebrate January 7, according to the older Julian calendar.

An early Christmas in the new Coptic Orthodox cathedral

The president of the republic had announced this last January when he had greeted the Copts during the Mass of the Nativity presided by Pope Tawadros II: "The next Christmas will be celebrated in the cathedral that will be built in the new administrative capital (east of Cairo)". Since then, construction works have been underway and are almost complete. In an enclosure of 60 thousand m2, the largest in the Middle East, a first chapel is destined to include a thousand faithful, and together with the others, the total of the faithful can reach 8,200. There is a garage in the basement, rooms for activities and meetings and the seat of the Pope, successor of St. Mark the Evangelist. Outside, the building will be decorated with two large bell towers to the left and right.

From this Christmas the official celebrations will be held in this cathedral, about 40 km east of Cairo, the current capital. Observers claim that this presidential decision was taken for security reasons.

In addition, the President of the Republic Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi has delegated several senior military and police officers to extend greetings on his behalf to the leaders of Catholic churches celebrating the Nativity on 25 December.

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