02/24/2011, 00.00
EGYPT

Military uses force against Egypt’s Coptic monasteries, wounding many

The confrontation was sparked by the construction of fences around the convents to protect them from marauding criminals who escaped prison in the wake of the 25 January uprising. After issuing a 48-hour demolition order, the army moved in. Some 7,000 Copts protest in Tahrir Square.

Cairo (AsiaNews/Agencies) –Egyptian soldiers attacked for the second time the Monastery of Saint Bishoy Alexandria in Wady el-Rayan, Fayoum, 110 km from Cairo. Two monks and six Coptic labourers were wounded. Four people were arrested, three monks and a Coptic lawyer who was visiting the monastery to investigate a similar incident the day before.

Monk Aksios Ava Bishoy told Nader Shoukry, of Free Copts, that the army stormed the monastery using five tanks, armoured vehicles and a bulldozer to demolish the fence built by the monastery last month to protect the building and its residents from the lawlessness that has prevailed in Egypt since the 25 January uprising. In fact, the monastery since that day has been attacked by common criminals who escaped from prisons.

“We contacted state security and they said there was no police available for protection,” Fr Bemwa said. “We were put in touch with the military personnel who told us to protect ourselves until they reach us.”

In order to protect themselves, the monks built a low fence on the borders of the one side of the monastery that is vulnerable to attacks, on land that belongs to the monastery. Both monks and monastery labourers have kept watch over it 24 hours a day.

Last Monday, the army issued an ultimatum to the monastery, demanding the wall be torn down within 48 hours; otherwise, it would act. The monastery did not heed the order.

After the attack, the military issued a statement on their Facebook page denying that it had attacked the monastery. Instead, it claimed that soldiers simply tore down a fence built on state land.

According to monastery officials, the fence was built on land that belongs to the monastery. For this reason, monks from Saint Bishoy have organised a sit-in in front of the convent to protest against the use of arms by the military.

The army also attacked the Monastery of St Makarios of Alexandria in Wady el-Rayan, Fayoum, 100 km from Cairo, for the same reason. One monk was shot and more than ten were beaten.

About 7,000 Copts staged a peaceful rally in front of the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo. From there, they marched towards Tahrir Square to protest against attacks by the military on Coptic monasteries.

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