Four houses belonging to members of the Coptic community in Kom El Loofy village in Samalout, Upper Egypt were torched on 30 June by a mob responding to rumours that a church was being built on land owned by a Coptic man and his brother.
Prior to the arson, Mr Ashraf Khalaaf had been summoned to the local police station to sign a statement to the effect that the construction work underway on his land was not for a building that would be used for the purposes of worship. According to the Egypt Today newspaper (El Masri El Youm) in spite of this declaration around 300 Muslim villagers torched Mr Khalaaf’s house and other Christian properties. The police arrested dozens of suspects after at least four homes had been set on fire, and the Governor of Minya ordered those involved to submit to a reconciliation meeting led by local religious elders.
However, in a statement on the incident the Bishophric of Samalout insisted that a reconciliation meeting must not occur before the rule of law is applied. The statement also called for the approval of an outstanding application for permission to build a church on land owned by the parish, which was made over ten years ago. Christians in the village currently have to travel eight kilometres to attend the St. Abu-Sefein Church in the village of Arzbet Rafla.
Following the attacks, 25 people were referred to the General Prosecution on 1 July.
CSW recently reported a similar attack on Coptic-owned homes and buildings near Alexandria in response to false allegations that a local man building a house for his son was in fact building a church.
In unrelated news, on 30 June a Coptic priest in North Sinai was shot dead in an attack claimed by the Sinai branch of Daesh (Islamic State). According to reports by the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior, Father Raphael Mousa of the Mar Girgis Church in Arish was having his car fixed when gunmen shot him. Commenting on the incidents in Egypt, CSW’s Senior Press officer Kiri Kankhwende said, “We are deeply shocked and saddened to hear of the murder of Father Mousa, and our thoughts and prayers are very much with his family, friends and congregation.”
“The torching of Coptic homes in Kom El Loofy underscores once more the urgent need for Egypt’s House of Representatives to enact a law regulating the construction and renovation of houses of worship in a manner that guarantees the right of Christians to worship in community with others. We echo the Bishophric of Samaloot in condemning the imposition of reconciliation meetings as a replacement for the rule of law because they impose ad-hoc, unjust and often un-constitutional conditions on the victims of sectarian violence and perpetuate impunity for the perpetrators. Rule of law must be upheld, and must include security services nationwide serving every community without discrimination on the grounds of religion.”