Three Coptic churches in Upper Egypt were recently hit by fires which, Copts say, was “not a coincidence”. In November last a fire started in an adjacent hall of the Mar-Girgis al-Gyoushi Church in the Shubra district of Cairo; it was extinguished before causing severe damage and no-one was injured. However, 5 people, 2 of them fire fighters, had been injured in the fire that broke out in the Mar-Girgis Orthodox Church in Mansoura, 120 kms northeast of Cairo, two weeks earlier. The blaze completely destroyed the wooden chapel on the upper floor of the church. Earlier, the famous wooden Mar Girgis Orthodox church in Cairo’s Helwan district also went up in flames.
Investigations are still ongoing, but electrical short circuits are mentioned as possible causes. But the Copts are not convinced. Father Mohsen, a priest at the Mar Girgis Church in Mansoura, said he was alerted by school girls screaming that the church was on fire. He immediately went to check and found “a huge fire erupting in the chapel on the upper floor of the church and the services hall attached to it. The fire started from the wooden ceiling of the adjacent hall”, he said. Fire and smoke was coming from the roof of the church. CCTV footage showed that something was thrown onto the roof from the vegetable market behind the church but did not reveal the offender.
The wooden chapel in the church was built in 2003 and Father Iskandar, a priest at the church, an electrical engineer by profession, said that it was unlikely an electrical short circuit had caused the fire: “When we built the church, we designed the electrical circuits with devices to protect against overcurrent and high voltage rise and we make sure we switch everything off when we are not around. The Mar Girgis Coptic Orthodox church in Helwan, was a wooden structure built in 1898 by the German community and since 1971 used by the Coptic church for worship. “We have lost a great historical building and we can’t rebuild anything like it,” Father Azmy, a priest at the church for 30 years said.
A couple of hours after he had left, locking the building, he received a phone call with the news that it was burning. “I immediately rushed to the church and found it on fire with heavy smoke filling the place. The old wooden building burned down very fast and the fire destroyed everything inside, even before the firefighters arrived,” he said. The church leadership called in electrical engineers to check for signs of a short circuit, but they did not find any. The next Sunday however, the congregation was back for a mass in their burned-out church. As all three fires are under investigation, police have not so far released further statements.
But a nameless local source said that shortly before the incidents, Egyptian national security had asked the churches to check their CCTV cameras to make sure that they were in working order. “This indicates that the national security had information suggesting that some churches in Egypt would be attacked,” he said. Before the attacks nation-wide protests erupted, calling for the resignation of President al-Sisi because of alleged corruption. He has also been accused of a crackdown on dissent, of jailing thousands of Islamists and activists, including journalists and bloggers. As Sisi struggled to counter the protests, audio of a leaked phone call was broadcast on Egyptian state TV.
The call was allegedly from the Turkish leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ali Batikh, to a group member in Egypt. In it, Batikh can be heard warning the group member in Egypt to stay away from churches and monasteries as there are plans for attacks on them. Critics however say the voice does not match that of Batikh. Sisi came to power after he ousted the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and its leader, President Morsi, in 2013. Sisi had the support of the Coptic Church but this has come at a price for the Copts, who make up 10% of the population. “The Muslim Brotherhood has attacked the Copts, their churches and properties to take revenge” a Coptic human rights activist in Minya said.
Source: World Watch MonitorPrint This Post