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Beheira governor suspends church demolition

Disputed church ownership causes Coptic friction

The scene of the bombing outside the Al-Qiddissine church in Alexandria, back in 2011 (AFP/Mohammed Abed)
The scene of the bombing outside the Al-Qiddissine church in Alexandria, back in 2011
(AFP/Mohammed Abed)

The Governor of Beheira Mokhtar Al-Hamalawi has ordered the suspension of the demolition of Rachid church in the city of Rachid, as well as the confiscation of the bulldozers and equipment needed to tear the building down, according to the Governorate of Beheira’s press office.

The demolition was prevented since the owner of church, Mohamed Tiranely, did not receive a demolition permit from the local unit.

Tiranely bought the Rachid Church from the Roman Orthodox patriarch in 1990 for EGP 100,000, according to the state-owned Al-Ahram portal.

The Coptic Orthodox Church objected to the purchase, saying that the Roman Patriarch had ceded the church to them, adding that a directive released by the State Council orders that any place of prayer cannot be put up for sale, being the property of the Ministry of Religious Endowments, according to a quarterly report released by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) in October 2008.

The report added that the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Roman Orthodox sect offered to pay Tiranely his money back, plus interest, yet he refused the offer.

“The Coptic Orthodox Church bought the church from the late patriarch only to discover that the next patriarch sold it to the owner in question,” Naguib Gabriel, Coptic rights lawyer and head of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights, said, indicating that the church was sold twice to two different owners.

The case was sent to court, where it remained stalled for years until the court ruled that the Tiranely has full claim over the Rachid Church and its land in 2008, according to Al-Ahram portal.

But according to Gabriel the Coptic Orthodox Church had registered their ownership of the church before Tiranely did. Gabriel alleges that Tiranely used force to enter the church in 2008, tearing down part of the church allocated for prayer.

“We filed a report to the minister of justice and to judicial inspection,” Gabriel said, insisting that the owner was charged with possession of weapons and using force to enter the church.

“He is now claiming that the late Pope Shenouda told him he was righteous in his claim over the church;” Gabriel said, “that is not true.”

Tiranely launched a second attempt to bring down the church on Sunday night, only to be met with the opposition of Copts who rallied around the site attempting to stop him.

The demolition process soon ceased following Governor Al-Hamalawi’s decision, and Gabriel believes that the owner won’t be granted an official demolition permit.

“It’s not possible,” he said, adding that even if he were given one, “ we will not be silent; we will further escalate the matter”.

According to Gabriel, legally speaking the individual who bought the church and registered it first is the one with legal claim to it.

According to EIPR’s report, the Roman Orthodox sect practiced prayer in the Rachid Church for decades until the mid 1950s. Afterwards, the sect departed the city of Rachid, closing down the church until Tiranely bought it in 1990.

Nevertheless, following Tiranely’s purchase of the church and land, the Body of Egyptian Endowments put the land under its supervision, on grounds of it being originally an endowment. The church was not used for prayers for years until the Coptic Church assigned a Coptic priest in 2008, four months before Tiranely’s first demolition attempt.

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