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Coptic services center shut down after Muslim protests

By-Essam Fadl-Special to Daily News Egypt | 31 March 2011

 CAIRO: The Giza Archbishopric halted the activities of an unlicensed services center in the Bashtil district of Imbaba until it is licensed after a group of Salafis and other Muslim inhabitants protested in front of it, holding a number of Copts and children inside.

The center includes a Coptic charity organization, kindergarten and a prayer hall.
 
The besieged Copts appealed to the army to get them out of the center after which the military police arrived accompanied by a police force, dispersing protesters and allowing Copts and children from the kindergarten out of the center.
 
The police took the priest responsible for the center and two of the sheikhs who incited the protesters to the Giza Security Directorate to reach a reconciliation.
 
Priest Harmina, who is in charge of the center, told Daily News Egypt that he agreed to halt the center's activities until licenses are issued. The building used to be a factory and was bought by the Giza Archbishopric in 1990 then shut down in 1999.
 
"In December in 2010 we got a license from State Security to open the services center so that it would include a Coptic charity organization, a kindergarten and a prayer hall," he said.
 
"We were told back then that we do not need to issue a license and that's why we started operating."
 
Harmina said that people protested after they were encouraged by Salafi imams in mosques as rumors circulated about turning the center into a church without the proper license.
 
He added that two Salafi imams filed a complaint last Friday at the Imbaba police station against what they claimed was the loud voice of hymns recited in sermons, although the building is isolated, situated in the middle of agricultural land and surrounded by a high wall without any microphones.
 
"We applied for a license and the district's engineers came to check the building and security forces promised us that a license will be issued in a week or two," Harmina said.
 
Coptic lawyer Peter El-Naggar blamed the problem on State Security, which was controlling everything. "State Security was the institution that issued permits for any buildings belonging to the church," he said.
 
"In the coming period we will see other unlicensed buildings that operated with permits from State Security, without getting official licenses — there was no other way for Copts to get licenses."
 
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