(AINA) -- Christian Copts staged a massive demonstration on Monday, February 28, against the Governor of Minya Ahmed Dia-el-Din, calling for his resignation. The demonstration was prompted by the governor's decision to demolish a church community center for the care of the handicapped, located in the village of Deir Barsha, in Mallawi, Minya Governorate.
Over 10,000 demonstrators, mainly from the village of Deir Barsha, were joined by Copts from the neighboring village of Deir Heness. They marched to the local council in Deir Barsha, holding slogans calling on the governor to resign and chanted "Go, go after your master [Mubarak]" and "We stopped giving bribes, so now you want to demolish the center."
After the demonstration was over, more than two hundred Copts refused to leave the handicapped center and staged an open-ended sit-in until the governor revokes his demolition order.
The 5-storey community center, which cost four million Egyptian pounds, belongs to the Coptic diocese of Mallawi and serves children and youth with special needs from 75 villages all over Minya governorate. It has a workshop to teach them a suitable vocation, as well as a free day clinic.
The Governor wanted to demolish the services building in January 2011, but could not because of the Coptic anger and demonstrations all over Egypt after the massacre of the Two Saints Church in Alexandria on New Year's Eve, where a bomb killed 25 Copts and injured nearly 100.
"Those children and youth, some of them cannot talk or do anything for themselves," said to one demonstrator, "so why deprive them of the place which can help them? It is utterly inhuman. This building was inaugurated by the governor himself four years ago and all licenses and papers are fully correct. Suddenly he wants to demolish it."
Coptic priest Father Antonious Bouchra, who is in charge of the community center, met with the village council officials in an effort to find a solution. He said that nearly 500 Coptic women demonstrated today in front of the council and stormed the meeting, forcing the meeting to be reconvened in the afternoon with the Mallawi city council director.
"The director pretended he had no idea about the demolition order and we felt he was procrastinating," said Father Antonious, "but he promised to put the matter to the governor and explain that the situation is urgent and explosive as the Copts are enraged and insist on keeping the center open."
He added that nearly 100 handicapped youth and over 2000 Copts are still staging their sit-in at the center since Monday, "fearing that the forces might come and pull down the building. The villagers insist on protecting the place by all means."
In another incident in the series of continued provocation of the Copts, the Governor of Minya ordered the demotion of ten newly built homes belonging to three Coptic families in the village of Saeed Abdelmassih, 30 km from Minya, without any reason.
Villagers said that the Governor asked the families to pay one million pounds as a voluntary contribution to the governorate in order not to pull down the houses and when they refused they were asked to donate one-fifth of the land to build a mosque near St. Demiana Church. The owners also denied his request as all inhabitants of the village are Copts and no Muslims live there. This prompted the governor to carry out the demolition of the homes on February 28 by the police and army forces.
The new Freedom and Equality Party called on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces on February 28, to sack the governor of Minya and accused him and others of causing sectarian strife in the governorate.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), an NGO that monitors the situation of religious freedoms in Egypt, published a two-year report from January 2008 to January 2010. According to the report there have been at least 53 incidents of sectarian violence or tension against Copts by Muslims (about two incidents a month) that have taken place in 17 of Egypt's 29 governorates, with Minya coming on top with 21 incidents.
By Mary Abdelmassih