FaithWorld

Muslims rush to restore torched Egyptian church

(A Coptic Christian boy looks out of the Saint Mary Church which was set on fire during clashes between Muslims and Christians on Saturday in the heavily populated area of Imbaba in Cairo May 8, 2011/Asmaa Waguih)

Mohammed Fathi worked his brush gently over an icon of Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, removing soot from its surface inside a church gutted in an attack by Islamist militants this month. “It takes a lot of careful work to do that,” Fathi said. “We have to do a lot of tests with chemicals to try to restore the icon to its original condition.”

The 26-year-old is one of a vast group of mostly Muslim craftsmen tasked with restoring St Mary’s Church in the Cairo suburb of Imbaba after militants set it on fire on May 7. Egypt’s military rulers have ordered its restoration at a time when tensions between Christians, who account for about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, and Muslims are on the rise. The ground floor of the four-storey church was gutted in the fire, destroying 10 out of 27 old icons beyond repair.

On Wednesday, a team of mostly Muslim restorers — working for one of Egypt’s biggest construction firms known as The Arab Contractors — huddled in one corner, using special chemicals, paint and brushes to rescue the remaining paintings.

“My job is to restore historic art pieces, be they Muslim, Coptic or Jewish,” Fathi said.

Egyptian Christians to end two-week sit-in protest

(Coptic Christian women protest after clashes between Christians and Muslims in downtown Cairo May 8, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

Egyptian Christians holding a sit-in in downtown Cairo agreed to end nearly two weeks of protests on Friday, state television reported, after authorities promised to meet some of their demands. Witnesses said some of the protestors had begun preparing to go home after one main protest leader, Father Metyas Nasr, an Orthodox priest, agreed to a government offer to free five young men detained on Thursday following clashes outside a church in the eastern Cairo suburb of Ain Shams.

State news agency MENA said authorities will organise a meeting between Christian and Muslim clergymen on Saturday to discuss the subject of two closed churches in Ain Shams. Nasr was not immediately available to comment.

Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood member says he will seek presidency

(he new headquarter of the newly-formed Muslim Brotherhood Party during a news conference in Cairo, April 30, 2011. The Muslim Brotherhood said on Saturday it will contest up to half the parliamentary seats in elections scheduled for September/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

A senior member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said he would run for president as an independent, a move that could draw votes from backers of the Islamist group that has said it will not field a candidate. Secular groups and the West are concerned by how much power the Brotherhood may gain after the first elections since the toppling of president Hosni Mubarak. Decades of authoritarian rule has curbed the development of potential rivals.

Egypt’s biggest Islamist movement had sought to assuage fears by saying it would not seek the presidency in polls due by early next year; nor would it pursue a majority in September parliamentary polls, contesting only 50 percent of seats.

Sectarian strife tests Egypt’s post-Mubarak rulers

(A soldier stands guard near the Saint Mary church which was set on fire during clashes between Muslims and Christians on Saturday in the heavily populated area of Imbaba in Cairo May 8, 2011/Asmaa Waguih)

Egypt’s army rulers face a dilemma as a bolder stance adopted by Islamists in the post-Mubarak era is worsening sectarian tension and triggering demands for the kind of crackdown that made the former president so unpopular. Armed clashes between conservative Muslims and Coptic Christians left 12 dead in a Cairo suburb on Saturday, touching off angry protests by some of the capital’s residents who called for the army to use an “iron fist” against the instigators.

The violence has deepened fear among Christians, who complain of poor police protection and a new tolerance of Muslim extremists, raising the risk of new flashpoints in a country dogged by poverty, soaring prices and a faltering economy. Police deserted their posts during the January and February uprising against Mubarak. Many have returned but many Egyptians say that has failed to stop theft and violent crime spreading as Egypt looks ahead to its first free elections in September.

Egypt vows crackdown after 12 die in Christian-Muslim strife

(Soldiers stand guard near the Saint Mary church which was set on fire during clashes between Muslims and Christians on Saturday in the heavily populated area of Imbaba in Cairo May 8, 2011/Asmaa Waguih)

Egypt’s government announced measures to curb religious violence on Sunday after 12 people died in clashes in a Cairo suburb sparked by rumors that Christians had abducted a woman who converted to Islam. The fighting on Saturday was Egypt’s worst interfaith strife since 13 people died on March 9 after a church was burned, and it threw down a new challenge for generals ruling the country since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in February.

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf canceled a tour of Gulf Arab states to chair a cabinet meeting where the government decided to deploy more security near religious sites and toughen laws criminalising attacks on places of worship.

Egyptian Salafists honor bin Laden with death prayer

(An Egyptian Islamist cries as people hold a funeral prayer over the death of Osama Bin Laden, in a mosque in Cairo May 6, 2011/Asmaa Waguih)

Hundreds of Islamist Salafists defied security forces and held special prayers Friday for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, killed in a U.S. raid in Pakistan this week. Some Islamists regard Saudi-born bin Laden, who was inspired by Egyptian militants, as a martyr.

“We will pray, we will pray,” some 200 men chanted as police tried to stop the special prayers at the Salafist-run al-Nour Mosque in the Abbasiyah quarter of Cairo after regular Friday noon prayers. Salafists call for a fundamentalist version of Islam based on that practiced by its earliest followers.

Days of protest after Christian governor named in southern Egypt

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(A Coptic Orthodox church in Cairo, April 18, 2009/Tarek Mostafa)

Muslims in southern Egypt protested for a third day on Sunday over the appointment of a Christian governor, saying his predecessor, also a Christian, had failed to solve their problems. Thousands rallied outside the governor’s office in Qena and prevented employees from entering, blocked highways leading to the town and sat on a railway line into the province demanding that the appointment of Emad Mikhail be reversed.

Egypt’s interim military rulers, who took control when President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising, selected Mikhail last week as one of several new appointments to replace officials associated with his autocratic regime. The protesters say Mikhail’s predecessor, Magdy Ayoub, failed to stem sectarian violence and address poverty and unemployment, which grew during his tenure. Witnesses say some Coptic Christians joined the protest as well.

“The experience of a Coptic governor has failed. There is no objection to his Coptic identity but the previous governor left a negative impression of Christian officials,” Youssef Ragab, a witness in Qena, told Reuters by telephone.

Once-armed Islamists talk tolerance by Egyptian temple

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(Mosque (R) in part of Luxor temple/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

The Egyptian Islamist group al-Gama’a al-Islamiya preached non-violence and tolerance of tourism this week outside a pharaonic temple close to the Luxor site where its members massacred 58 foreigners in 1997.

The group which took up arms against the state in the 1990s and played in a role in Anwar Sadat’s assassination in 1981, gathered followers by the Luxor Temple on Friday to espouse the peaceful activism it is pursuing in the post-Hosni Mubarak era.

The organisers had picked the location, by a mosque in the Luxor Temple complex, as a message to tourists “that there is no danger to their presence in Egypt”, Sheikh Assem Abdel-Maged, one of the group’s leaders, said in a telephone interview. “Some tourists attended the meeting and took photos and there were some meetings with tourists,” he said on Saturday.

Egyptian army must stop shrine vandals-religious affairs ministry

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(A resident looks at damage to the Sidi Abdel Rahman shrine at a mosque in Qalyoub, north of Cairo April 3, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

Egypt’s religious affairs ministry has called on security forces to strike with “a hand of steel” to stop the vandalism of Sufi shrines targeted in attacks blamed on ultra-orthodox Muslims. An increase in attacks on shrines in Egypt is fuelling concern about the role that Islamists will play after the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak, who suppressed Islamist groups that he saw as a threat to his rule.

Scores of shrines have disappeared or were burnt down on the outskirts of Cairo weeks after Mubarak was toppled from power. The attacks have awoken old tensions between Sufis, followers of a mystical Islamic tradition to whom shrines are an important part of religious practice, and ultra-conservative Salafists, who see them as idolatrous.

Hardline Islamist campaign against Egyptian Sufi shrines focus fears

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(Residents inspect damage to the Sidi Abdel Rahman shrine at a mosque in Qalyoub, north of Cairo April 3, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

Wielding crowbars and sledgehammers, two dozen Islamists arrived at the Sidi Abdel Rahman shrine in the middle of the night aiming to smash it to pieces. Word spread quickly through the narrow, dirt roads of the poor Egyptian town of Qalyoub. Within minutes, the group were surrounded and attacked by residents who rallied to defend the site revered by their families for generations.

“They say the shrine is haram (something forbidden in Islam), but what they are doing is haram,” said Hussein Ahmed, 58, describing the shrine attackers as Sunni fanatics, at least two of whom witnesses said were then badly beaten.