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Thursday, March 3, 2011     FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

Egypt's military attacked Coptic monasteries
in late February

WASHINGTON — Egypt's new military regime has launched a massive attack on the Coptic community.


The U.S. Congress has been told that Egypt's military-led regime ordered an attack on two Coptic monasteries in February. A Coptic analyst said Egyptian Army main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers and vehicles fired into the monasteries and attacked monks.

"The armed forces undertook these actions under the pretext of destroying illegal fences built by the respective monasteries last month to protect them from the chaos that unfolded at the beginning of the revolution when pro-regime forces released prisoners and thugs to frighten people away from protesting," Coptic human rights activist Dina Guirguis said.

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The military attack came about a week after the administration of President Barack Obama approved $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt for fiscal 2012, Middle East Newsline reported. Officials said the administration determined that military aid was crucial to encourage Egypt, in wake of the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, to cooperate with the United States, particularly in allowing naval ships to use the Suez Canal.

In testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on March 1, Ms. Guirguis cited Egyptian sources as well as videos regarding details of the military attack. She said at least five MBTs as well as armored vehicles and a bulldozer were deployed in the operation against St. Bishoy and St. Makarious, located in Wadi El Natroun and Fayoum, respectively.

Egypt's MBT fleet is mostly comprised of the U.S.-origin M1A1. Ms. Guirguis did not cite the use of U.S. weapons in the attacks on the monasteries.

"After the attack, monks collected dozens of bullet shells as evidence, which they understood would be needed to counter the expected denials on the part of those in power," Ms. Guirguis, a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said.

The Egyptian Army attacks took place on Feb. 23 and Feb. 24 and lasted at least 30 minutes each. Ms. Guirguis said the army fired rocket-propelled grenades as well as other munitions against the monks and dozens of civilians were injured.

At St. Makarious, Egyptian troops stormed the monastery while firing their weapons and later confiscated building material. The troops were also seen destroying trees on the grounds of the monastery.

"While governance is not within the military purview, no one expected the military to actively take action against vulnerable religious minorities at this time," Ms. Guirguis said.

The Supreme Military Council, chaired by Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi, denied the attacks. A council statement called on Egyptians to remain unified.

"The international community should hold Egypt's military, now currently at the country's helm, to at least the same standards to which we held Mubarak's regime in calling for respect for fundamental freedoms including the right to assembly and speech and worship," Ms. Guirguis said.

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