Officials obstruct restoration of Church of the Virgin and St. Samuel in Beheira, EIPR calls for the arrest of violent attackers

Press Release

10 January 2023

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) condemns the arbitrariness of the authorities’ course of action in al-Beheira Governorate, which prevented the completion of the restoration and strengthening of the ceiling and walls of the Church of the Virgin and Saint Samuel. EIPR said it is illogical to restore a part of the ceiling and leave the other part, especially since the restoration decision issued by the local council concerns the entire area.

State agencies should have hastened immediately after the attack on the church and Coptic property, first, to arrest those involved in these events, and second, to guarantee and protect the church in carrying out the expansions and renovations it needed, especially since the roof has been eroded by rain and represents a danger to worshipers.

The Church of the Virgin and St. Samuel in the village of Abis al-Thawra in al-Beheira governorate was attacked and pelted with stones over two consecutive days, during the process of “pouring” concrete for its roof, according to the decision issued by the local council to replace and change the roof after it was exposed to erosion and damage.

The establishment of the church dates to the end of the 1970s. It consists of one floor, over an area of ​​about 170 square meters, and serves the Copts who reside in about 17 nearby villages. Two years ago, the priest of the church tried to obtain a permit to restore and expand it, but he was only able to obtain a permit to restore the roof. As the roof was divided into two parts, one of wood and the other of tin, the rain eventually led to its erosion.

One of the workers in the restoration process, and an eyewitness of the incident told EIPR that violence began at 5:00 pm last Saturday, when dozens of people threw bricks and stones at the church while chanting phrases including, "We don't want a church here," while the concrete was being poured, and the throwing continued for hours. The church officials contacted security forces, who came to the vicinity of the incident, arrested two people, and released them at exactly two o'clock the next morning. EIPR obtained several pictures and videos showing a gathering of people who denounced the presence of the church, as well as the damage caused by the attacks.

According to the testimonies collected by EIPR, the attack caused the destruction of three cars owned by Copts, and a truck that was transporting about 50 children with disabilities who are being taken care of by the church. In addition, a nearby farm was set on fire and houses of Copts were attacked by stones.

One of the religious leaders supervising the church confirmed to EIPR that the attackers of the church live nearby, and are known to security forces, and that security forces did not explain the reason for their release on the same day.

He explained that the restoration work of the roof began 15 days ago, and after the attack on Saturday evening, security forces imposed a security cordon around the church to complete the restoration work, but the attack was repeated the following day by throwing bricks and stones at the building, and the village council prevented the workers from completing the pouring of concrete, claiming that the decision issued to restore the ceiling concerns only 70 meters, and not the entire area of ​​the church.

EIPR obtained a copy of the roof restoration decision issued by the local council, bearing the official seal. It provides for the restoration of the northern and southern facades with a length of 17.5 meters for each, and the western and eastern sides with a length of 7.8 meters for each, bringing the total area to be restored to 132 square meters.

EIPR said that this case is a new example of the failure of Church Construction Law No. 80 of 2016 to solve the problems of building and restoring churches in Egypt, and that the practices by some executive and security agencies that have long been criticized that are intransigent in granting permits persist, especially in rural and slum areas far from the attention of capital officials and the media.

EIPR renews its demands for the issuance of a unified law for building all houses of worship that includes standardized conditions and codes for building. This law should not include any requirements that are exclusively limited to churches while not applicable to other service, administrative or other religious places of worship. EIPR renews also its demands for the issuance of a single decision to legalize the conditions of all existing churches that submitted their applications seeking official registration more than five years ago.