The violent clashes between security forces and those protesting the suspension of construction on the Church of the Virgin and El-Malak in Omraneyya have led to a plethora of opinions and stances. Here, Mina Zarif, the pastor of the church, recounts his own perception of what happened and what this all entails.
“Suddenly we noticed worrying security mobilizations in the area. This provoked and agitated the people, and of course people do not feel secure in the presence of the police. The police provoked the bystanders — about 400 people, mostly workers and women.
“They suddenly found themselves surrounded by 5000 central security personnel equipped with shields, tear gas and guns.
“I was seriously taken aback by this. I closed my eyes and thought this is definitely Israel and we are in one of Hamas’s dens. I could not find any other explanation.
“But the question that naturally arises now is: what makes all those central security trucks come all the way from Talbeyya to Mariuteyya — about 100 trucks and more than one armored vehicle — to target poor workers striving for their livelihood on a daily basis?
“The student Makarius Gad, who was shot dead by one of those bullets, came from Sohag to work and to study at the same time. I need an explanation for these incidents; in whose interest are they? Suppose we did breach the license, is this the appropriate punishment?
“But the incident also raises other questions, and forces us to look at a mosque like Khatem El-Morsalin (the last of the prophets) in Omraneyya, which seized a piece of land originally belonging to a bank and built the mosque. Nobody did anything then, though we were not upset about that.
“Likewise you could say the same about the changing of a street name from Chefrin to Khatem El-Morsalin, again without proper permits. I would not have mentioned those incidents if it had not been for the statements of the Giza governor on television. Now I feel I need an explanation.
“Ultimately, these examples, and there are many more, are they not examples of encroachments that need permits and licenses? But then you describe a small church where some poor people can pray as an encroachment.
“If you visit El-Omraneyya you will find 10 storey buildings along streets that are no wider than four meters. Aren’t all these violations? But they only recognize violations when people want to pray.
“The irony of all this is that we went to the governor himself two days before the incident and had a respectable and wonderful meeting. But two days later he told me to stop working. I told him that what agitates the people is this unnecessary presence of security forces. He said, ‘You reduce your work so I can reduce mine.’ I obeyed the orders. I went to the people and sent some of them away.
“Then there was this betrayal. And rumours spread that Copts threw stones and Molotov cocktails at the police. Those workers from Upper Egypt do not know what a ‘Molotov cocktail’ is. They would not know how to pronounce it. At the end they took them in their concrete-stained clothes. Do they know anything about God, those people? I don’t think so.
“Because even if we have made a mistake, this is not a way for a father to treat his children. Not in a way that amounts to death. I want to clarify that Muslims themselves would bring us food while we were working. They would ask us if we needed anything.
“But this police violence was totally unexpected. This confrontation and the throwing of tear gas led people to believe that their relatives have been killed. They immediately went to the security directorate in Cairo to avenge them.
“As a result, a child died in front of the governorate building. The government does not listen to the voices of the wise when they warned of angry Coptic revolts. Everything has a limit, our patience has a limit — there is no fear any more. I am not building a brothel or a pub. I am building a church where people pray to God.”