Local authorities confiscated land belonging to the Saint Macarius Monastery in Wadi Al-Rayyan, Al-Fayyoum Governorate, Egypt, on 30 May.
Officials, supported by the police
force, used bulldozers to demolish the fence and other constructions that had
been erected by the monks who live there. A number of monks who protested and
tried to stop the operation were arrested and released shortly afterwards.
Saint Macarius Monastery was founded in 360 AD. In 2017, the Ministry of Environment granted the monks the right to use the land on which the monastery stood and the surrounding area. It was agreed that they would pay 500,000 Egyptian pounds (approximately 22,500 GBP) per year for 3,000 acres of land, surrounded by a fence. It was also agreed that they would pay 4 million Egyptian pounds (approximately 180,000 GBP) per year for a further 1,000 acres of the land outside the fenced area, but since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic the monastery has failed to pay the rent, prompting the authorities to confiscate the land.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “Whilst we recognise the right of the government to collect the agreed taxes, we also recognise that this monastery has been on this site for centuries and that the rental levies are a relatively recent expense in its historic existence. We encourage all parties to engage in a process of negotiation to ensure a just settlement in this matter, including a reappraisal of the rent that the monastery is required to pay, which is a considerable financial burden even outside the unusual circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has negatively impacted livelihoods in Egypt and across the world.”
In a separate development, Governor Oussama Al-Qadi of Minya province has established a special committee to oversee the implementation of Church Building Law, update him weekly, and meet monthly with the general committee of the governorate. The governor has also encouraged civil servants in Minya to resolve issues related to the construction and renovating churches speedily, and to increase the level of communication and liaison with church leaders and the local Christian community. 306 churches and church buildings have been legalised in Minya Governorate since the national committee commenced its mandate in 2016.
Mervyn Thomas added: “The new initiative by the governor of Minya is particularly welcome, as it comes from a state where most sectarian tension in Egypt takes place. CSW encourages the administration not only to continue the process of legislative reform, but also to address societal attitudes and practices that restrict the right to freedom of religion or belief. We commend the efforts of the government of Egypt to address historical injustices affecting the Christian community, and we encourage it to extend these reforms further to encompass other unrecognised religious and belief groups.”