09/15/2010, 00.00
EGYPT – ISLAM

Egyptian security forces storm the Monastery of St Macarius, three monks badly injured

About 300 agents take part in the assault, backed by cars and armoured vehicles. Tear gas, batons and stones wee used against the monks. The siege, which began on 7 September, lasted 24 hours. Ownership and new cells for monks are the core of the contentious issue.

Cairo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Hundreds of Egyptian security forces, backed by a large number of cars and armoured vehicles, attacked the monastery of St Macarius of Alexandria in Wadi Rayan, Fayoum Province, 150 kilometres south of Cairo. The action began at 8 pm on 7 September, but news about it only filtered recently. About 300 agents took part in the assault, using tear gas, batons and stones against monks, three of whom were seriously wounded.

According to the AINA news agency, security forces prevented the delivery of limestone bricks for the construction of cells for the monks inside the ancient Monastery. They also tried to seize the bricks already delivered but the monks sat on them, refusing to move.

The issue concerns the ownership of the area and its use, with monks and the government holding different positions.

The authorities claim that Wadi Rayan is a conservation area that cannot be touched. The monks say they must build cells inside the monastery, which goes back long before it was ever designated as a conservation area.

Security forced surrounded the Monastery until 12 AM the following day, but withdrew "after seeing the insistence of monks to assert their rights," said Fr Boulos el-Makkary, one of the 85 monks living in the monastery. "They left with the commander promising to be back soon."

“The monks believe that the government wants to prevent any construction on the premises to prevent any increase in the number of monks living there, even though cells for the monks are badly needed," Father Boulos added.

At present, cells are shared by five to eight monks even though each should have his own.

The Monastery of St Macarius, also known as the "Buried Monastery" since most of its cells are caves in the mountain, has been uninhabited for a long time because of the lack of electricity and water. However, in 1996 monks began living there permanently and obtained permission from the Minister of Environment.

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