By Dan Wooding, Founder of the ASSIST News Service
ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT (ANS – October 5, 2015) — What in a normal setting is an everyday land dispute can quickly turn into a full-blown “sectarian” flashpoint with adverse effects on the wider community, when one side of the feud happens to belong to the wrong religion.
According to World Watch Monitor (www.worldwatchmonitor.org), this is what Hamdi Makanoti, his family, and local Copts, are facing in a district of Alexandria, Egypt’s second biggest city.
According to veteran Coptic newspaper Watani , two years ago a local Muslim family, al-Hutti, unjustifiably claimed land belonging to the Makanotis in Amreyya, a district of about a million inhabitants to the west of the large coastal city. The land, said to have belonged to the Copts for more than 20 years, is reported to be about 10 acres of agricultural land next to the village church of the Holy Virgin and St George.
“Although the Coptic family have since successfully asserted their right to their land, including through both common law and more regular legal channels, the Egyptian police were unable to restore the Makanotis to their family property, as large numbers of locals demonstrated around the area, forcing the police to withdraw,” said World Watch Monitor (WWM).
“On Sept 20 police tried once again to allow the Copt to regain his land. Again they met with a large number of demonstrators. A Hutti man was shot dead: a forensic report quoted by Makanoti’s lawyer said the young man was killed by police fire.
“However, the angry crowd immediately blamed the Makanouti side, using the mosque loudspeakers to blame the Christians for killing a Muslim. Large crowds of local armed Bedouins gathered, clashed with the police, and the resistance lasted all day. Watani reports that an hour after the police had been forced to withdraw, more neighboring villagers arrived to swell the crowd, which marched on Makanouti’s house.
“St. George’s church was pelted amid rallying cries of ‘Allahu Akbar’ by a whipped-up crowd, reports say. Reports say four Copts’ houses were damaged; two people, Demian Maher (35) and Therese Hanna were injured and are still in hospital, and threats were made of possible mass evictions.”
Finally, WWM reported, moderate local tribespeople arrived and intervened, bringing to an end the day’s stand-off. However, local Christians reported being terrified of going out or leaving their homes.
“We will take your lands and homes!”
Warnings the Christian side of the dispute say they have received include: “We will take your lands and homes, like it or not. Leave, or we will kill you if you force us to it!”
How serious the threats are for now remains to be seen. One thing is more certain. A forced recourse to “local reconciliation sessions”, as they are known in Egypt, would make the Makanouti family settle for a resolution that relinquishes their rights in exchange for keeping the peace.
More ominous would be a return to events similar to what happened in 2012, when a number of Copts in the same district were impressed upon to leave the locality for fear for their safety. That followed reports of allegedly improper photos taken by a Christian man of a Muslim girl.
World Watch Monitor concluded by saying that through the intervention of a local politician representing the Makanoutis, just such a one-sided agreement was reached on October. 4 to impose a four-month truce which would prohibit members of either of the disputing clans to set foot on the land. Although this would prevent the Makanouti family from attending the St. George Church adjacent to their land, they signed the agreement as a “goodwill gesture,” saying they would attend another church in a nearby village for the next four months. But the Houtis did not attend the reconciliation session or sign the agreement, Watani reported.
At the time, a Coptic Church ad-hoc council described this as a “forced repatriation” of Copts.
Photo images: 1) Police have so far failed to restore the land to its Coptic owners, 2015 (Watani). 2) Pope Tawadros II, the 118th pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and Patriarch. 3) Dan Wooding with Norm Nelson of Compassion Radio besides the pyramids in Egypt.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 74, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for more than 52 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS). He is also the author of some 45 books. He has reported for ANS from Egypt on several occasions.
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