Coptic media: A series of prevented visits and denied requests for more security

Editor’s note: Amr Ezzat cites reports from Coptic news sources since a fatal militant attack in 2017 on Coptic Christians similar to that which took place last week in the same place — on the road to St. Samuel Coptic Orthodox Monastery in Minya governorate.

The reports show that repeated requests were made for increased security in the monastery’s vicinity following the 2017 attack, which killed 28 people, but that security forces tried to prevent visits to the monastery, rather than secure them.

After last week’s attack killed seven people, some media and security sources suggested the group traveling to the monastery used an unofficial, and hence unsecured, route of access. In response, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Maghagha and Adwa in Minya said, “The victims accessed the monastery from the main entrance on the desert road and did not take another route, as some claim.”

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A collection of comments made by Coptic media following the 2017 attack (posted by the author on November 4, 2018):

Following the first assault against a group of worshippers on their way to the Anba Samuel (St. Samuel) Monastery on May 26, 2017, which left 28 Copts dead and dozens injured, a meeting was convened between representatives of the monks of the monastery and senior security and executive officials.

In May 2017, the privately owned Watani newspaper [which is close to the Coptic church] reported that the monks made three demands: To “have the 30-kilometer narrow dirt road [that leads to the monastery] paved.” They explained that “the fact that the road is unpaved — although the monastery is a major religious tourism destination — makes it difficult for vehicles to make their way to the monastery and easy for terrorists to intercept them. It also means that moving the wounded takes longer.”

“The lack of cell phone coverage was another issue raised by the monks,” which they say “is one of the reasons why the terrorists chose this [monastery] as a target and why some of the wounded failed to call for help.” Therefore, the second demand was to “set up cell towers [in the vicinity].”

Finally, “the monks demanded that a proper CCTV system be installed outside the monastery and that a security force be deployed in two parts: one stationed outside the monastery and tasked with securing it, and a mobile unit to secure the road that connects the monastery to the Western Road.”

According to the report, “The [security and government] officials asserted at the meeting that the road would be paved promptly. They also said that a police armored vehicle currently patrols the road and escorts visitor buses and cars to and from the monastery, making a trip every hour.”

In August 2017, “the Copts United” website reported that, “per the agreement that was reached between the Anba Samuel the Confesser’s Monastery and the governor of Minya following the massacre, the Road Authority’s Minya branch of the Transport Ministry has begun surveying the dirt road in preparation for the paving process.” However, it reported, security forces had started to turn visitors away, instead of escorting them as agreed.

In December 2017, the bishop of Port Said headed to the monastery was blocked by the police. A security source cited “difficulties” that rendered the force “unable to protect” the bishop’s group.

In May 2018, a year after the first attack, the monks submitted a petition to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in which they complained that the road was still not paved, that the promise to secure it had not been fulfilled and that many visitor groups were being turned away en route to the monastery by police claiming to be unable to protect them. As the monastery was reliant on visitors buying merchandise, this practice compromised one of its sources of funding, according to the petition. The monks also said that vehicles carrying essential basic supplies to the monastery were at times detained for such long periods of time that perishables among supplies went bad.

According to the report, “the monks said they had submitted several petitions to the governor of Minya and other officials but were told, ‘We have received orders from high up not to allow visitor groups.’ Meanwhile, they are left without answers as to how it could be that the police and the military are unable to protect visitors to the Anba Samuel Monastery, or why the works were halted, although LE30 million had been earmarked months earlier to pave and light the road.”

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Note: Image of the Anba Samuel (St. Samuel) Monastery, courtesy Copts United, 2017

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