A court in Damanhur sentenced Wael Saad and Ramon Rasmi Mansour to death for being “led by the devil" when they killed the abbot of St Macarius. Now the Grand Mufti will review the ruling. Coptic religious leaders call for prayer and urge an appeal to the sentence.
Cairo (AsiaNews) – A court sentenced two monks to death over the murder of the abbot of the monastery of St Macarius in Wadi El Natrun. For Egyptian Christians and the leaders of the Coptic Orthodox Church, this is a sad day and represents a catastrophe that will be appealed as soon as possible.
The details of the case are still murky. Many of the pieces of the puzzle are missing, nor is it clear why the death penalty was imposed. Sources that spoke to AsiaNews, said that they will wait for further developments before commenting on the matter.
On Saturday, a court in Damanhur imposed the death penalty on Wael Saad, known by his monastic name Isaiah al-Makari, and Ramon Rasmi Mansour, known as Faltaous al-Makari, who wept at the ruling. Both were defrocked after the assassination.
"The defendants were led by the devil to the path of evil and vice,” said Judge Gamal Toson of the Damanhour court in his ruling. They committed “the greatest of the greatest sins and the greatest of crimes which the heavenly religions forbade".
For him, the two men are responsible for the murder on 29 July 2018 of Coptic Orthodox bishop Anba Epiphanios, abbot of the monastery of St Macarius, an event that shocked Egypt’s Coptic community and monastic circles.
Following the murder, the Church banned monks from using social media and suspended admissions into its seminaries for one year.
The disregard shown by the two men for the abbot’s advanced age and spiritual role played an important role in the sentencing and ruled out extenuating circumstances in the case.
Now the case goes for review. In Egypt, death sentences are reviewed by the country’s highest religious authority. The Grand Mufti of Egypt is now tasked with reviewing the court decision. His ruling is expected on 24 April.
Throughout the trial the two defendants proclaimed their innocence. For the prosecution however, the two were responsible for the murder, due to a financial dispute with the abbot.
The two men religious were also blamed for unspecified violations of monastic rules, which led to them being defrocked following a trial before a religious court.
For Bishop Anba Aghathon, the verdict a "catastrophe" and a "sad day" for the community. He urged believers to pray for the monks, hoping that an appeal will be launched as soon as possible.
Esam Ebaid, secretary of the European Union for Egyptians and a member of the Christian Union, a Dutch political party, slams the sentence, noting that the investigation was marred by corruption and political interests.
For him, the verdict is an offence against monasticism and leaves the door open to interference into the affairs of monasteries and land seizures.
Egypt has a population of about 95 million, mostly Muslims. Christians represent about 10 per cent, a majority of whom are members of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
In 2016 and 2017, a wave of deadly terrorist attacks swept over the country, with Christians among the targets.