03/08/2011, 00.00
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“Give us back our church,” Copts and Muslims tell Egyptian government

Some 8,000 people demonstrate in front of Egyptian TV, demanding the rebuilding of the Coptic Church of Saints Minas and George, destroyed by extremists last Saturday. It is the first protest of its kind by Copts other than at their cathedral. For Fr Rafik Greiche, head of the press office of the Catholic Church of Egypt, this demonstration is a sign that Christians dare take to the streets. However, fundamentalists are still trying to take advantage of the situation of chaos to impose on Egypt Sharia and a radical version of Islam. “Western government can put pressure on our government to recognise the value of this equality on society,” the clergyman said.

Cairo (AsiaNews) – “Give us back our church,” shouted some 8,000 people, Copts and Muslims together, in front of Egyptian TV, as they called for the rebuilding of Saints Minas and George Church, which was destroyed by fire last Saturday by a group of Muslims.

Fr Rafik Greiche, head of the press office of the Catholic Church of Egypt and spokesman for seven Catholic denominations, told AsiaNews that “for the first time Coptic Christians gathered outside Cairo’s Saint Mark’s Cathedral for a show of strength and signal their desire to be present in society and change the constitution.” The place was chosen because various TV studios are located near Tahrir Square, which has come to symbolise the protests that brought down the Mubarak regime.

For Fr Greiche, this shows that Christians are more conscious of what they can do. “With this demonstration, they wanted to show that they can take to the street and find support in the Muslim community. In fact, they were able to convince Prime Minister Essam Sharaf to meet a delegation of a thousand Copts, and get a promise out of him to rebuild the church immediately.”

“Videos from the demonstration show Muslim women wearing the hijab along with Christian women, calling together on the army to rebuild the church,” the priest said. “Images such as these, of Muslims standing side by side with Christians, are a sign of the equality between the faiths that came out of the Jasmine Revolution, which brought together hundreds of thousands of young people from both religions under the same flag,” he explained. “During the uprising, Christians and Muslims showed that they were truly one heart in their country.”

Nevertheless, Islamic fundamentalism remains a major danger to the country. Organised extremist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood are trying to take advantage of the situation of chaos to impose a radical version of Islam and implement Sharia in Egyptian society.

“Many imams are opposed to changes to Article 2 of the constitution, which says that the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia). Right from the beginning of the unrest, religious leaders said they would accept changes only to those articles that affected the government and parliament, but not those that involved Sharia.” Many of these leaders belong to the same fundamentalist Muslim groups that include Muslim radicals who escaped from Mubarak’s political prisons.

“The fire at the Coptic church in Soul occurred in a rural area not far from the capital,” the clergyman said. “It was provoked by a family feud between a Muslim and a Christian family.”

Local muslims used the dispute to exercise the right of vengeance, which is rooted in Muslim society, in order to demolish the church and force 7,000 Christians out of their homes.

“Even though the army pledged that it would rebuild the church on its original site, some Muslims do not want it in their village, and are trying to have it moved to another location. This goes to show the real intent behind the attack, namely the desire to get rid of the church from the village. It also suggests that for some Christian-Muslim disputes can only be settled by moving a church to another place.”

According to Fr Greiche, the only good thing that has come out from the Jasmine Revolution is equality between Christians and Muslims. In a situation of instability, it can stop extremists from imposing Sharia as the source of Egyptian law.

“Western governments can put pressure on our government to recognise the value of equality in society,” he said. “Muslims and Christians together carried out the revolution. There were martyrs on both sides. The West must let any future government realise that a new country can be built by making a small change to Article 2 of the constitution.” (S.C.)

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