A meeting held last evening in al-Fashn, Beni Sweif, some 100km south of Cairo, gathered together a number of high ranking local security officials and some 20 members of the clergy of the diocese of al-Fashn in an attempt to contain the escalating sectarian violence in the village of Meinin.
Meinin, al-Fashn, was the scene of an attack that took place on Saturday 14 April by the village Muslims against the church of the Holy Virgin and Pope Kyrillos VI in the village.
The attack took place at 7pm Saturday evening, when a group of young Muslim villagers gathered at one of the village mosques and headed to the church and started pelting it with stones, breaking its doors and windows. The police quickly arrived and brought the matter under control; 20 Muslims and 12 Copts were then caught pending investigation.
The violence escalated two days later with the burning of four Copts’ houses on the outskirts of the village; the Muslim villagers accused the Copts of having done that, inflicting damage on themselves in order to escalate the crisis. The Copts categorically deny that, but the police caught five of them who retaliated against the Muslims.
The prosecution of al-Fashn is questioning the detainees. According to lawyer Essam Reda who represents the Coptic defendants, they have been charged with mobbing, fighting, and possession of unlicensed arms.
The church has been used for worship for some 10 years now, and serves some 1000 Copts. It is among the unlicensed churches which, according to the 2016 Law for Building Churches, have filed applications for legalisation of status. For long decades and till the 2016 law was passed, Copts had found it next to impossible to obtain licence to build a church. Owing to the ever-increasing needs of the growing congregation, they resorted to worshipping in buildings not licensed for worship. The new law made provision for licensing existing unlicensed churches, provided their buildings are structurally sound, as proved by a committee from the building authority.
No specific reason was given for the Meinin attack, but many of the Coptic villagers say that the building authority committee had recently visited the church in preparation for legalising its status, and the attack was waged in retaliation.