Egyptian Security Forces Storm Monastery, Assault Monks
By Mary Abdelmassih
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(AINA) -- On Tuesday, September 7, at 8 PM a 300-man security force, backed by a large number of cars and armored vehicles, attacked the monastery of St. Macarius of Alexandria in Wadi Rayan, Fayoum province, 150 KM south of Cairo. The monks in the monastery were assaulted with tear gas, batons and stones. Three monks were seriously wounded.

Click here to see video of the monastery

The security forces prevented the delivery of limestone bricks to be used for the construction of cells for the monks within the grounds of the ancient Monastery. The forces also attempted to confiscate bricks already delivered but the monks sat on the bricks and refused to move.

The authorities claim that Wadi Rayan is a conservation area, while the monks say they are building cells within the grounds of the Monastery, which was built before the area was designated for conservation.

Security forced surrounded the Monastery until 12 AM the following day, but withdrew "after seeing the insistence of monks to assert their rights," said Father Boulos elMakkary, one of the 85 monks living in the monastery. "They left with the commander promising to be back soon."

Monk Mina elMakkary said the security forces surrounded the Monastery as "if we were terrorists. We are monks who left everything behind to come and worship God, and they come to attack unarmed monks."

The monks believe that the government wants to prevent any construction on the premises to prevent any increase in the number of monks living there, "though cells for the monks are badly needed," said Father Boulos. Presently 5-8 monks share one cell, when each should be living alone.

Gerges Bouchra of Copts-United said the incident started when the head of the police in Fayoum was passing by in his car when he saw three trucks loaded with limestone bricks, which had been sent as a donation to the monastery. He protested and removed the registration plates from the trucks. Later he sent a force and took away the trucks with their cargo and drivers. "I told the officer-in-charge, Islam Moawad, that we understand our rights and that he was breaking the law as he had no warrant supporting his actions," Father Boulos said. "Apparently this was not enough, so the forces came on Tuesday evening to confiscate what bricks we had offloaded."

Father Boulos said the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency has built a big rest house for its staff with a swimming pool within the Monastery grounds, under the pretext of watching rare birds, but more likely "to watch us," and the swimming pool is "just for conserving water" we were told. He added that two months ago the Agency had given permission to a private investor, Hany Zaky, to build a tourist attraction within the conservation area, 5 KM away from the Monastery, and he had stipulated that monks should not build there.

The Monastery of St. Macarius, also called the "Buried Monastery" as most of its cells are caves in the mountain, has been uninhabited for a long time due to desert conditions and being without electricity or water. Monks have, however, lived there from time to time until 1996, when they decided to remain there permanently and obtained permission from the Minister of Environment to live there.

Problems with the authorities started with the increase in the number of monks and the need for cells. Two years ago newly built cells were demolished on orders from the Environmental Affairs Agency. "We got fined 2 million Egyptian pounds for supplying the monastery with water, we went to court and won through reconciliation," monk Mina said. "Police in Fayoum, State Security and the Agency collude against the Monastery and they do not give us any permits. They want us to get a Presidential decree from President Mobarak," he added.

Father Boulos said that State Security might import Arabs to the area to get rid of them as they did in Abu Fana in the Minya province. "During a meeting with a top State Security one of our priests official in Fayoum was threatened and told the monastery might be destroyed, and people would be sent to the monastery to harm the monks."

Speaking on behalf of the monks, Father Boulos said that they are not afraid as they do not care about their lives. "We are ready for martyrdom. Maybe if we die now, the next generation can live in peace."

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