In late September, a structure purported to be a church was attacked and destroyed in the Upper Egyptian village of Marinab. The attack set off a series of protests which eventually led to the death of at least 27 mostly Christian protesters during clashes with military police at Cairo’s state TV building.
Since there were several conflicting and sensational media reports about this sectarian incident in Marinab, AWR founder Cornelis Hulsman and Egyptian researcher Lamis Yahya conducted a lengthy fact-finding mission to the site of the alleged church burning to provide non-biased, independent reporting on the issue.
After meeting and interviewing Christian and Muslim religious leaders, eyewitnesses and security officials in Marinab, AWR produced a comprehensive 28-page analysis of what sparked the incident. In the report, entitled, “What Happened in Marinab Village: An Investigative Report” multiple sources told AWR that a group of Muslim youth had set fire to the church, which had recently gone under construction to receive a new dome.
It was not immediately clear what exactly drove the group of Muslims to attack the Christian house of worship. However, no Muslim in the community to which AWR spoke disputed that the church was attacked by a group of Muslim youth.
AWR did find that there were some disputes as to whether the structure was officially registered as a church, and some Muslims in the village presented official documents stating that the building was listed as a residence and not a religious facility.
However, AWR found that Christians in Marinab had used the building for prayer services for years, and this fact was well known in the Muslim community, which had never objected.
Muslims only seemed to take issue with the church after the Christians attempted to visibly change the outward appearance of the building by adding a dome to the facility.
The incident in Marinab is, indeed, a sad reflection of the state of Muslim-Christian relations in Egypt.
But it is a terrible mistake to make the situation worse than it actually is. The reporting of Dutch broadcaster NOS-TV has done exactly that by suggesting that Copts set their own church ablaze and subsequently blamed Muslims for the attack.
The reporting of Dutch journalist Lex Runderkamp has failed to adhere to the most basic standard of journalistic integrity—that of listening to both sides of a story.
Christians in the village may not have followed strict governmental building regulations for their house of worship. They may have also made unhelpful statements following the sectarian incident.
But given the overwhelming amount of evidence, AWR believes that it is simply not true that Coptic Christians in Marinab set their own church on fire and then framed Muslims for the disaster.
To suggest otherwise is to needlessly stir sectarian strife in a country that is in dire need of national unity.
* To read AWR Chief Editor Cornelis Hulsman’s response to the NOS-TV report, click here or here.