The governor of Egypt’s Minya governorate has reportedly denied the assertion by the Coptic Diocese in the region that Islamic extremists are increasingly attacking churches, prompting at least four of them to shut down.
Minya’s governor said government authorities shut down “unlicensed” Christian places of worship, adding that they were not official churches and urging the diocese to check its facts, notes Al Arabiya.
Egyptian Journalist Girgis Bishry reportedly accused the governor of using the law that mandates that all churches obtain a license to operate as a pretext to shut down churches in Minya, home to a large concentration of Christians.
Bishry said the governor ultimately gave the perpetrators a free pass — a common practice in predominantly Muslim Egypt when the victims are Christians
“We said nothing when one church was closed, so it got worse and a second, then a third were closed, and a fourth is on its way as if praying is a crime for which Copts are punished,” declared the Coptic Christian Diocese of Minya in a statement.
“We are concerned that extremists will be able to impose their will on state institutions,” he added.
The Diocese identified the four churches that have been forced to shut down, noting that two “were closed after being attacked by extremist Islamists, the third closed in anticipation of an attack that never materialized, and the fourth was besieged by security forces following an attack and is expected to be closed.”
Minya governorate is home to one of the largest concentration of the Christian religious minority in Muslim-majority nation. The region’s Coptic Diocese urged the governor to take action to protect the region’s ancient Christian community.
However, Journalist Bishry concedes, “Minya is a hotbed of extremists, and there is a possibility that the governorate itself is infiltrated by Muslim Brotherhood supporters who intentionally turn a blind eye to such violations. If this is not stopped, we might wake up one day to find Minya an Islamic state.”
Echoing the Diocese in March, Caroline Doss, an Egyptian-American immigration lawyer who specializes in Coptic asylum cases and serves as the vice-president of Coptic Solidarity, told U.S. lawmakers that the Christian minority in the African country was experiencing a “sharp escalation” in violent attacks at the hands of Islamic extremists.
Nevertheless, the Minya governor has rebuked the diocese allegations that Islamic extremists are assaulting Coptic churches in his region, arguing that government authorities close down the Christian churches.
Al Arabiya reports:
The statement issued by the governor of Minya in response gives, however, a totally different picture. According to the statement, the buildings that were attacked were houses in which prayers were performed without a license.
“Two houses were attacked. Security forces arrested 15 suspects in the first and 11 in the second,” said the statement. “As for the other places, they were also houses owned by Copts but were not attacked at all.” The statement added that the governorates responds to all requests for the construction of churches and makes sure that their number is proportional to population increase.
Minya’s governor acknowledged that his region is welcoming to Coptic Christians
“In fact, Minya governorate has the biggest number of churches, monasteries, and Coptic community service centers,” pointed out the statement.
The governor urged the diocese to verify its facts.
Despite the spike in Islamic extremist attacks against Christians since the election of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the assaults continue to be carried out with impunity, seldom resulting in any punishment.
According to Egyptian journalist Mohamed Youssef, a rift between Copts and the Sisi administration is begging to erupt.
“The governor’s statement angered a lot of Coptic activists who called upon President Sisi to personally intervene through forming a neutral committee to look into the crisis in Minya,” he wrote. “Many of those activists believe that the new law on the construction of churches has not s
Coptic Christian lasyer Doss, explained:
Since 2011, there has been a sharp escalation in violence perpetrated against Coptic Christians [in Egypt]. We have seen many churches burned and we have seen many Christian homes and businesses also burned. Unfortunately, that violence has only continued to increase.
The lack of prosecutions. The lack of protection for this [Christian] minority has allowed this extremism and violence to fester and grow to the point where it is today.
Dozens of Christian houses have been burned by Islamic radicals, including more than 60 in Minya alone.
Persecution at the hands of Islamic extremists is driving many Christians to flee Egypt.