Minia, Egypt - The land of burnt churches

  The photos feature the Association of the Brothers of Christian Schools and Jesuits' Building, Youth Centre and School, and their vehicles among which were the vehicles used to ferry disabled children home.

The Muslim Brothers have been occupying Rabiaa Al Adawiyya and Al Nahda Squares for over five weeks. Therefore, on Wednesday 14th August, at dawn, the government decided to break up the sit-in, even if it meant using force. It had given the people occupying the squares various chances and warnings to stop their sit-in.

A few hours after the government forces brought the sit-in to an end, big and violent demonstrations started in all the governorates in Egypt, and especially in the governorate of Minia (since the ‘70s, Minia has produced and exported most of the leaders of the Muslim Brothers to the whole republic).

The demonstrators had clear instructions to destroy and damage and burn the greatest number possible of public and state buildings and churches as well as building belonging to church services and associations.

Around nine o’clock in the morning, of the day when the sit-in was broken up, a big group of people started throwing stones and empty bottles at the door of our church, and they tried to force open the door and break it down. They did not manage to break the door or open it, so they climbed up the wall and took hold of the cross above the gate and with a crow-bar managed to break it and throw to the ground. Another group, in the meantime, were throwing stones and breaking all the window-panes on the façade of our residence.

They also damaged and tried to set fire to two shops facing our residence (belonging to Christians) but the Muslim neighbours stopped them from continuing their work of destruction, so they left the place and went in search of another.

Seeing these violent mobs, we encouraged the employees of the Association of the Brothers of Christian Schools and Jesuits (a lay association linked to the Society, running various activities in Southern Egypt) and of the school to leave the place and go back to their homes, so as to avoid any possible clashes. Only the members of the Jesuit community remained on the spot (Bimal, Radi and Amir). There was also a mixed group of young people from various places with our Jesuit scholastic, Emile.

At around one in the afternoon, we heard shots being fired and we saw smoke and fire coming from the direction of our youth centre (the building of the Association) and our neighbours, most of whom are Muslims, offered their help and tried to put out the fire. There were big groups of young people from the Muslim Brothers and thugs who set fire to and destroyed everything that they couldn’t rob and carry with them.

They set fire to the whole youth centre, a three storey building. They stole all the computers (more than forty), and all the projectors and the high definition cameras used for training and teaching.

While the building was being set on fire, another group were burning down the classes used for teaching people with special needs and burning also the means of transport belonging to the association and the school (these cars were used to transport the handicapped children to their homes at the end of the school day). 

They burnt a big bus and two minibuses plus three private cars, including the community’s new car. They also damaged and broke two buses and a minibus and a number of motorcycles belonging to our employees and two motorcycles specially equipped for the physically handicapped.

All this happened in less than an hour before our very eyes, and both we and our neighbours looked on helpless, as they were equipped with fire arms and knives.

Some of our neighbours and of our youth came to help us put out the fire, but in such circumstances, some people come to help while others took the occasion to loot and to rob. And this is what did in fact happen.

Throughout these events, we contacted the police and the firefighters and all the security forces, but in reality the amount of fires and destruction was widespread and very numerous, surpassing by far the means at the disposition of the security forces and the firefighters.

Under pressure from us, and on our insistence, a police officer accepted to come on condition that our young people protect him, because he did not have enough forces to defend the police station or any other place. After about an hour from the beginning of the events, a fire-engine arrived but they too were afraid of facing the angry mob.

The following day : 15/08/2013

At dawn an armed group tired again to steal whatever had survived the fire.

From that moment on, a group of young people from the area and of employees of the school and the association came to us and volunteered to spend the night with us to protect and guard the premises. Naturally, they were unarmed, so we had to hire some armed guards to defend our premises in case of a new attack.

On another level, the guard of our property, “the Oasis” asked us to temporarily seek the help of armed guards to protect the property till the situation calmed down.

The situation in general:

• At least ten churches have been burnt down in the Minia governorate
• A number of Christian charitable and development institutions have also been destroyed
• So also, an orphanage
• And Christian schools such as that of the Sisters of Saint Joseph and the Coptic schools, as well as others.
• Shops and private premises belonging to Christians, a river boat belonging to the Evangelical Church, and another boat used as a restaurant we also set on fire.
• Police stations were looted and set on fire, and arms we stolen from them.

All this happened on the first and second day of the violent demonstrations. After that the police and the army intervened and used helicopters to follow the movements of the angry mob and locate them.

Practical steps

- On our part, we presented a written complaint at the police station on the 18th August 2013, number 7280, in order to defend our rights in front of the state and the judicial authorities

- A commission from the authority for school buildings came to examine the damage suffered and write a report to be presented to the authorities concerned. 

- We are expected a second commission from the Attorney’s office to examine and make a report the damage done and the loss suffered, especially concerning official documents that were burnt in the fire.

Openings to hope

Notwithstanding all the rapidly increasing and worrying events, there are always signs of hope.

In times of crisis, the people’s love and appreciation for our work and our presence is more openly manifested. And this is in fact what we felt right from the very first moments of this crisis, which will pass, with God’s grace. Our friends and our Muslim and Christian brothers have been by our side giving us strength and encouraging us to continue our mission and our service, and assuring us that Egypt needs our service, our mission and our presence more than at any other moment.

May our prayers, Christians an Muslims together be acceptable to God Almighty.

Magdy Seif, SJ

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