(AINA) -- After Friday prayers today, a mob of several thousand Muslims from the village of Elmarinab in Edfu, Aswan province, demolished and torched St. George's church, which was being renovated. The mob demolished the dome, walls and columns, then went to the church depot where the lumber to be used for construction was stored and torched it. The fire lasted 2 hours but the attack continued until 7 PM.
In an interview on Coptic TV channel, Father Salib of St. George's Church said "the Imam of one of the village mosques called on the people to take matter in their own hands, he added. Other witnesses named the Imam as Sheikh Sabry.
According to eyewitnesses the Muslims also torched a large depot of electrical goods owned by a Copt, a supermarket and four Coptic homes. Muslims prevented the fire brigade from entering the village. Security forces, which were present, "stood there watching," said Mr.Michael Ramzy, a social worker at the church.
Dr. Naguib Gabriel, head of the Egyptian Union of Human rights Organizations send an urgent message to field Marchall Tantawi to save the Copts in Egypt. "The Copts, their lives and their churches are in danger," he said.
Attorney Mamdouh Nakhla, head of Al-Kalema human rights organization condemned Muslims taking the law in their own hands. He said "if the Egyptian Government is unable to protect its citizens, then the civilized international society should step in immediately to stop this human tragedy."
The Media denied the incident. Mostafa el Sayed, Governor of Aswan, appeared on State TV tonight and denied any church being torched. He said it was a "guest home" and not a church. El Sayed said he gave his permission for the building to be 9 meters high, but the church contractor made it 13 meters high. "The contractor was slow in removing the 4 meters, so the Muslim youths took the matter into their hand." He said the fire was in a depot of the church which had the construction lumber.
He said that both parties are at fault, the Christians for exceeding the height and the Muslims for taking matters into their own hands. He added that he arranged for a "reconciliation" meeting to be held in the next two hours.
Father Salib refuted the governor of Aswan allegations that the torched construction was a guest home. He said St. George's church was been built 100 years ago and as it was dilapidated, the diocese was given permission to renovate it completely. He said that the Governor of Aswan himself signed the license for the renovation in 2010.
The renovation, although having all the necessary licenses from the government, prompted a crisis in Elmarinab village in the beginning of September. Islamists objected to the presence of a cross, bell and dome and prevented Copts from leaving their homes (AINA 9-9-2011).
Outspoken Coptic activist Wagih Jacob said what happened in Elmarinab is a scandal. The mob went out today, knowing that they have the support of Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). "I accuse SCAF to be in collusion with these people as well as the Governor of Aswan and the head of prosecution."
Yacoub said that Coptic activists including himself are going to Aswan on Saturday to see what is happening there, even if they are killed. "I call on all Coptic men and Muslim liberals to join us to go to Aswan," He accused the Governor of Aswan of not telling the truth "because he knows very well that no media will go to the village to take photos there."
Georges Bouchra of Copts United NGO reported the Copts are staying indoors as it was rumored that Muslims have threatened to torch their homes tonight.
The Maspero Coptic Youth organization held a rally in the densely Coptic-populated district of Shubra in Cairo to protest the attack of Elmarinab church. It was attended by thousands (video).
On October 1 several Coptic organizations, together with other liberal movements, will hold a rally under the motto "No to attacks on Coptic Churches" to start at 5 pm from Shubra and end in Tahrir Square.
By Mary Abdelmassih