Egypt (MNN) — Egypt's Coptic leaders say there are increasing attempts to harass Christians since the country's 2011 revolution.
The latest incident occurred on Monday November 5 in northern Cairo. This is where a Coptic Orthodox Church service center is under construction.
Following the afternoon Muslim prayers, a group of Salafi Muslims occupied the construction site and hung a sign reading: Masjed El Rahman, or "Mosque of the Merciful."
Open Doors USA reports that the Maspero Youth Union, which is a Copt activist group, wrote on its Facebook page that the intruders insisted the church did not have the right permits to build. Later government officials affirmed that the church did in fact have the required permissions in place.
For about 24 hours, people of the Coptic Church had to reckon with a group of Salafis who said that Christians has no right to the land. Several members of the Maspero Youth Union made their way to the building site and began to ask questions to the occupiers.
One of the Salafi occupiers said, "We have a small mosque at the end of the street, and the presence of a church here will offend us."
"And this small mosque has a license?" the Copt youth asked in reply.
The Salafi Muslim retorted, "Do the houses of God need a license?"
Coptic Bishop Antonius Marcos, who oversees the region of Cairo for the church, urged Christians to avoid direct confrontation with the Salafis. He even lodged complaints with the government officials.
He said, "The church doesn't intend or wish to have any kind of confrontation with anybody. We are all brothers living in a same country."
The church construction project does have the support of the governor for that region of Egypt.
This episode happened only a day after the new pope, Bishop Tawadros II, was elected. It is not known if the Salafis were responding directly to Tawadros' election when they took over the Coptic construction site.
"Such an action is nothing new in Egypt, but this is not the first time that extremists directly go after a high profile Coptic prelate," Said Fr. Rafic Greiche, pastor of St. Cyrille Greek Melkite Catholic Church.
This episode prompted denunciations from the Coptic hierarchy and from liberal allies such as the Free Egyptian Party and Egyptian Social Democratic Party.
Together with other conservative Muslim groups, Salafis staged a demonstration Friday in Cairo's Tahrir Square to demand a prominent role for Islamic law in the constitution. More moderate Muslims, along with Christians and other liberal elements, are trying to keep the constitution as neutral as possible on the issue of religion.
The Maspero Youth Union takes its name from the huge building that is home to Egypt Radio and Television organization, where youths protests the earlier destruction of a Christian church in southern Egypt. Security forces and the Army killed 28 of the protestors, most of them Copts.