CAIRO: Aswan’s governor denied the burning of a church in Edfu, in southern Egypt, on Friday and said there was no attack on the church since there is no church “but a Christian guest house,” adding that the situation has calmed and the clashes stopped.
Governor Mostafa el-Said told Channel One, Egypt’s national TV channel, late on Friday that reports stating violence against a church in the city were “wrong.”
Eyewitnesses, however, have reported that a number of Muslim men surrounded church and set fire to parts of it, then moved to Coptic houses in the area, where they set fire to buildings and vandalized a grocery store.
They added that violence continued into the night, with the men using gas containers to set a residential home on fire, while another reported that one of the Muslims said “we don’t want Copts in our town.”
Eyewitnesses have confirmed that some men tried to stop the fire trucks from reaching the burning buildings, which contributed to financial damages for the city.
El-Said said that the clashes erupted after construction was taking place at the guest house with “the intention of turning it into a church which provoked the Muslims.”
He added that the Copts had permission to build on the guest house for 9 meters only, but they exceeded that and increased the building by 13 meters.
He said the Muslims “got angry” and the Copts admitted to the wrongdoing and promised to remove the extra floors, but there was a delay in the removal “which made a local Islamic clerk mobilize young men and head there to remove it themselves.”
Clashes between the Muslim majority and Coptic Christians over building new churches or expanding existing ones is not new, and several incidents of violence have erupted over similar situations across the country.
Many activists and observers have been calling on the government to issue a unified house of worship law that forces both Muslims and Copts to follow the same regulations.
Many Copts have complained that Muslims can build a mosque anywhere, but Copts are forced to go through a long and difficult process of red tape that does not always give them the right to build.
On June 1, the Egyptian Cabinet approved the unified house of worship building law, which gives governors the power to approve any building, reconstruction or renovation. The old regulations only allowed the head of the state, then-President Hosni Mubarak, to approve the buildings.
The decision has to be taken within three months of application.
The new law says there should be 1,000 meters between a mosque and a church for “security reasons.”