Plans to build Egyptian church over hotel café abandoned


In Egypt, the Ismailia Court of Appeal denied an appeal made by Pope Shenouda to turn a plot of land that had been allocated for a hotel and café into a church, according to Ibrahim Sadiq of the Al Misri Al Yawm. The court’s decision was based on the fact that the Tur Sinai council allocated the land and has jurisdiction over it.

”The case was opened eight years ago when Samir Jacob Marqus sold the plot of land to Pope Shenouda. However, council officials were surprised to discover that a church had been established on the land and not a café and hotel, as was intended,” added Sadiq. Pope Shenouda brought a lawsuit against the Tur Sinai council; however the city council countered this by filing a lawsuit voiding the sale contract.

According to Mustafa Sulayman of the Al Usbua, the beginning of the building of the church dates back to early 2000 when Osiris Mena, one of the Christians owning a tourist village in Sharm Al-Sheikh, established a place for prayers inside his village, and one of the priests prayed there. This made one of the officials reject this practice.

“In February 2000, in the city of Al-Tur, 100 km from Sharm Al-Sheikh, a Copt owning a restaurant gave a part of that restaurant to Bishop Makari who began to use it as a place for prayers. Following that, faxes and complaints from Egypt’s Archbishop Damianos against Bishop Makari started flowing until security officers intervened and broke the altar,” said Sulayman. The building was sealed off and nobody could enter.

Security actions were based on a report from Archbishop Damianos that a church was built without a license. The secretary of the South Sinai Governorate told Bishop Makari that he had ten days to evacuate the place or to file an official request to the court to build a church. And Bishop Makari indeed accepted the order, as Bishop Bissenti, the general bishop of Helwan and Al-Maasara said.

Clearly, the root of this issue is rivalry between the two monasteries in Sinai – the St. Catherine’s Monastery and the Coptic Orthodox church being built on the café/ hotel, according to Sayed Abdl Khaliq of Al Wafd.

Damianos (of St. Catherine’s Monastery) filed a complaint against Makari saying (quoted verbatim): “Since the establishment of this monastery, the monks are living in love and they performing their duty towards God in safety, surrounded by the feeling of love of all the officials in the country. But recently, we have realized that the sons of another denomination are taking some procedures that are bothering the monastery and the monks, especially after the election of bishop Makari who is trying to deny the historical existence of the monastery in the area. This monastery has had the greatest effect on increasing religious tourism in South Sinai and it has also attracted the nations of the world in tolerance and love.

“Bishop Makari has been preventing the few Christian families who are living in Tur Sinai from visiting the church and the monastery. It was also noticed that he was trying to take control over the monastery and spread the idea among the people that this monastery belongs to the Coptic Orthodox denomination and using the tolerance and love of the monks and the archbishop, and also using the human hospitality which we used to offer them. He also broke into a building that was used as a hotel – this hotel is located at the entrance of Tur Sinai, beside the tombs of the Greek Orthodox – violating all traditions and religious principles. He intended to use this building as a church without having the ‘permission’ of the government.

“In this way, he was “opposing” the country’s tolerance and he insisted on not following the judicial and legal channels as some of our friends and sons informed us of that. Due to the monastery’s care not to have any problems with the officials, we would like to inform you of our dislike of what is happening, especially when Bishop Makari tried to force himself upon the monastery. He was present during the Pope’s visit to the monastery, in spite of our prior refusal to his presence during the visit. He agreed to our refusal but he surprised all the people by his presence and he was carrying gifts with the text “The Bishop of the Sinai is welcoming the Pope.”

Added Sulayman, Bishop Bissenti also said that the Copts there completed steps with establishing the church, but some Christian religious figures thought that getting the permission was a difficult thing and would take some years. “Bishop Bissenti said that his experience in Helwan tells the opposite story. When he wanted to build a church the permission did not take more than one year and decision number 459/1999 was issued. Bishop Bissenti requests everyone to adhere to the law, especially since we receive good response from the state in such matters,” said the Al Usbua writer.

Bishop George Es-Shammaa, Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox church in Cairo, explained that what happened in the monastery of St. Catherine’s has nothing to do with the Greek Orthodox denomination, because the monastery belongs to the Greek Church. He also said: “Although we agree with them in dogma, any incidents that may happen have no relation with us. Archbishop Damianos is the sole head of the St. Catherine’s monastery.”

According to the AWR report, an Orthodox source said that Bishop Makari wanted to find a guesthouse like the one of the Greek Orthodox which made them angry because it will force them to share the EGP 10- they get for the services they offer to the Copts, other visitors, and tourists. (The rates they charge tourists are, of course, are a little higher).