Tensions between Coptic monks who dwell in remote monasteries in Egypt and the Egyptian military flared this week as the nation struggles to find its way forward after President Mubarak's resignation. The place of religious minorities, such as Christians, in the new Egypt is still a key (and not fully resolved) question.
According to reliable reports, several monks and monastery workers have been injured in recent days. The AINA news agency reports:
Egyptian armed forces this week demolished fences surrounding ancient Coptic monasteries, leaving them vulnerable to attacks by armed Arabs, robbers and escaped prisoners, who have seized the opportunity of the state of diminished protection by the authorities in Egypt to carry out assaults and thefts. "Three monasteries have been attacked by outlaws and have asked for protection from the armed forces, but were told to defend themselves." said activist Mark Ebeid. "When the terrified monks built fences to protect themselves, armed forces appeared only then with bulldozers to demolish the fences. It is worth noting that these monasteries are among the most ancient in Egypt, with valuable Coptic icons and manuscripts among others, which are of tremendous value to collectors." On Sunday February 20, armed forced stormed the 4th century old monastery of St. Boula in the Red Sea area, assaulted three monks and then demolished a small fence supporting a gate leading to the fenceless monastery. "The idea of the erection of the gate was prompted after being attacked at midnight on February 13 by five prisoners who broke out from their prisons," said Father Botros Anba Boula, "and were armed with a pistol and batons. The monks ran after them but they fled to the surrounding mountains except for one who stumbled and was apprehended and held by the monks until the police picked him up three days later."
Meanwhile, the Arab-West Report provides more perspective and an eyewitness account:
Copts tell us that it is not uncommon in Egypt that Copts have made use of moments of unrest to quickly realize structures for which otherwise permissions would have had to be requested. In the past they were often able to get away with this. The army is, however, not willing to let this go and showed willingness to destroy newly erected buildings.
To read the monk's full, eyewitness account, click here.
If you are in Egypt and have more light to shed on this situation, email me.