Few Copts attended Christmas mass in upper Egypt

Deir Mawas—Security at Deir Mawas in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Minya-the epicenter of the Kamilia Shehata story– is well beyond tight.  

Local security forces are on hand in full force as access to the neighborhood of the Deir Mawas and Gilda Monastery is severely restricted. 

They have set up a perimeter cordoning off all streets and alleyways that lead to the mosque. 

Al-Masry Al-Youm reporter in Deir Mawas was denied access to the Church upon entry. “The church has banned the presence of reporters today,” a plain-clothed policeman told him. 

A source from inside the monastery said that local law enforcement and state security had informed the church that no Muslims would be allowed to enter the premises. 

“We asked if we would be able to invite the normal Muslim guests from the local government, and prominent members of society, and we were told it is out of the question,” the source said.

Plainclothes security forces littered the streets and are questioning “suspicious people.” 

Rumors stemming from Minya about explosives found an unmarked, unclaimed box at a cathedral in the neighboring Minya City have reportedly further tensed up the situation. 

“The entire situation is tense, and then you add on these rumors, of course the security situation will be vital,” a policeman at Deir Mawas station said.

These rumors spread through the Coptic community like wildfire.

“I heard about it 3 hours ago. I thought I heard before anybody. I went to church early to tell people the news, and found that they had found out even before me,” George a 21year-old student said. 

Worshippers are slowly trickling into the monastery at what is reportedly a much slower rate than usual. 

“I was shocked with how few people were in there. I don’t know how many exactly, but you can count them,” the source from the monastery said.

Copts in the area are reportedly anxious over Alexandria church bombings and subsequent threats. 

“We have much more sectarian tension here than Alexandria, especially after the Kamilia situation…everyone here keeps half-jokingly saying, we’re next,” the source said. 

The heightened visibility-and lack of subtlety- on the part of the security forces are said to have increased the anxiety and fear in the Coptic Community in Deir Mawas. 

Coptic groups have voiced disgruntlement with the security forces in general, especially after the horrific Alexandria attacks. 

“With us, the distrust of security forces goes way back, so how do you think we feel about them now?,” Neseem, a minibus driver in his 40’s said. 

“In our day to day lives, we live normally and don’t encounter much.  We’re used to a certain amount of tension when we start gathering for church events and to go to mass during a big holiday.  This year it is more than anything I’ve seen.”

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