Egypt Detains Christian For "Praying Without License"

Friday, November 6, 2009

By Worthy News Middle East Service

Coptic Christians can face persecution in Egypt, Christians say.
Coptic Christians can face persecution in Egypt, Christians say.

CAIRO, EGYPT (Worthy News)-- A Coptic Christian was believed to remain under police surveillance Friday, November 6, after he was reportedly detained for two days in central Egypt for "praying without a license."

Maurice Salama Sharkawy, 37, said in published remarks that Egyptian security forces  arrested him October 24 at his home in the village of Deir Samalout in Minia province where he had invited a pastor to pray for his sick father.

He said authorities accused him of carrying out "religious rites without a license" and "causing sectarian sedation" by calling a priest into the village. A number of his cousins living in the same family house and who attended the prayers were also detained with him, reported the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA).

The Christian man said he was eventually released after two days on “compassionate grounds”, but  added that Egypt's feared State Security service has placed him under observation by three policemen.

Local police reportedly said he was detained after the son of the village major complained that Maurice Salama Sharkawy converted his home into a place of worship without government permission, "angering Muslim neighbors".


Christians maintain however that the village has no church and that the nearest one is in the village of el Tayeba, over five miles (eight kilometers) away.

Mayor Mohammed Khalaf Allah has reportedly defended the detention. "The villagers confirmed to me more than once that the sound of prayer comes out of Maurice's house, and that he refuses to go to church and decides to pray in his own home together with a number of the village Copts," he was quoted as saying by Egyptian media.

Reverend Moses Raphael of the Samalout Coptic Orthodox Diocese said the arrest was  no isolated incident, AINA reported. “Such a matter comes as no surprise; it has become common in Minia to prevent Christians from praying," he was quoted as saying.

Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Coptic Watani newspaper, told AINA that authorities were to blame for the tensions. "They terrorize worshippers who dare conduct services outside a licensed church, treating them as law violators, despite the fact that the root problem lies in the authorities' reluctance to permit the erection of new churches or restore existing ones,” he reportedly said.

Copts comprise at least nine percent of Egypt's mainly Muslim population of over 80 million, according to the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), although Coptic organizations say that figure may be higher. (With reporting by Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos).