CAIRO: The attack on a church in the southern city of Marinab, a few kilometers from Edfu, last week, remains shrouded in mystery as around 4000 protesters continue their sit-in in front of the governorate’s headquarters in Aswan.
While Aswan’s governor claimed that the attacked building is a service center, protesters maintain that it is a church, vowing to continue their sit-in until their demands are met.
Protesters are calling for the renovation of the church and the return of its priests, as well as Governor Mostafa Al-Sayed’s resignation.
"People are chanting against the governor because he didn’t take any clear position after what happened in Marinab. Some Nubians are also here to ask for his resignation, they accuse him of stealing their land," explained Andrew Azmi, a young protester from Aswan.
Al-Sayed appeared on television shortly after the church was partly burnt, claiming that the attacked building is not a church but a service center and accusing the town’s Christian community of building the church illegally.
"The governor is a liar. I am from a small city near Marinab and it is a well-known fact that the village has a church. We have copies of the church’s license," explained Hedra, another protester from Aswan.
"A Muslim cleric came to support us; he said he was going to Marinab and that people of Marinab themselves will rebuild the church. We told him that we don’t want it to happen this way because we want to apply the rule of law," Hedra said.
On the other hand, an official source from Aswan that preferred to remain anonymous told Daily News Egypt that "there are no churches in Marinab, only a service center which was used by the Christian community as a church.”
“But officially, there were never any churches," he said.
According to the source, earlier in August rumors circulated that Copts were building a church on a property next to the service center. The priest however denied such allegations, the source said, claiming he was only building a new service center since the other one was old.
A reconciliation session between the village’s Muslims and Copts was held later that month and both parties agreed to make some changes to the new building so it is not used as a church.
The source added that the agreed upon renovations were going too slowly, prompting a Muslim cleric from Marinab to urge Muslims to go “finish the job themselves.”
"Meanwhile, somebody managed to forge a license for renovation work originally issued for the church of Dar El-Malak, located in another village 35 km from Edfu, into a license for the Marinab church, which doesn’t even exist,” the source said, “We transferred the issue to the general prosecutor to find out who was behind this."
However, a source close to the Coptic Church vehemently denied these claims. "This is a lie. The church of Marinab is 40 years old; we have all the licenses to prove it. Marinab is a small village, it isn’t Cairo. Everybody would have noticed it if the Christian community was trying to build a church illegally," he said.
However, priest Makarios Boulos, who has been officiating at the church for nine years, told DNE, “Two years ago we started the legal procedures to restore the church … Finally we got the licenses we needed in November 2010 and May 2011. At the beginning of Ramadan we were nearly done. Then problems started. We had to opt for the reconciliation session.”
Boulos said he does not understand where the sectarian tension came from. "We live in peace with our Muslim neighbors. They have been helping us with the construction work. I believe some of the village’s people who had moved to Cairo, returned and incited Marinab’s people to attack our church."
A protest staged by hundreds of Copts in front of the TV building Maspero in Cairo was dispersed, meanwhile sectarian clashes also erupted last Friday between Muslims and Christians in Marinab.