Egypt prosecutor-general restores disputed land to Coptic church

Ahram Online, Thursday 8 Nov 2012

Prosecutor-general returns disputed land in Cairo's Shubra Al-Kheima district to Coptic Church after it is briefly occupied by Salafist Muslims

Egyptian Prosecutor-General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud officially restored possession of a parcel of land owned by Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo's Shubra Al-Kheima district to Bishop Morcos, Coptic Bishop of Shubra Al-Kheima, after the land was briefly occupied by Salafist Muslims earlier this week.

After entering the land illegally on Monday, a group of Salafists erected a sign bearing the words 'Al-Rahma Mosque' and performed Islamic prayers on the premises.

The Salafists only left when church authorities informed the interior ministry of the incident. Security forces took down the sign on Tuesday morning.

Subject to disputes between Muslims and Coptic-Christians, the land in question was formally restored to the latter after investigations by the prosecutor-general's office confirmed Bishop Morcos' ownership of the land.

Mahmoud also ordered police to adopt any security measures necessary to protect the disputed land.

In a statement to Al-Ahram's Arabic-language news website, Bishop Marcos expressed his gratitude to Mahmoud for the latter's swift response to the incident, saying the prosecutor-general's actions indicated his impartiality.  

On Tuesday, the Egyptian Coptic Coalition issued a statement holding President Mohamed Morsi responsible for the episode and urging him to impose harsher punishments for such incidents. The group also called for an investigation into Monday's episode.

In an earlier statement, Egypt's Maspero Copts Youth United also denounced the incident, attributing it to the state's failure to respond to earlier outbreaks of sectarian violence,  including the burning of Christian churches in the wake of last year's Tahrir Square uprising.

Egypt's Copts, estimated at between 10 and 15 per cent of the total national population, have long demanded legislation allowing them to build churches freely and without bureaucratic restrictions.

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