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St. Katherine’s Monastery in Egypt Awaits Demolition Hearing

Retired Army General Ahmed Ragai Attiya has filed an official demolition suit against the monks and Monastery of St. Katherine at Mount Sinai. St. Katherine’s is  one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Monument. The monastery was built in the 6th century CE by order of the Emperor Justinian I, on the site beneath Mount Sinai where, according to scripture, God spoke to the prophet Moses from a burning bush. In 2012, Attiya obtained 71 administrative orders regarding the demolition of the monastery’s multiple churches, monk cells, gardens. The demolition suit filed this year at Ismailiya’s Administrative Court makes complaints against the monastery and 10 of the Egyptian authorities concerned with its administration, including the president, ministers of tourism and antiquities and the governor of South Sinai, where Saint Catherine’s is located. The complaint is expected to be heard in June.

The monastery has been under pressure from the Egyptian government since July of 2013, when Egyptian officials asked it to close after the removal of former president Mohamed Morsi. Morsi’s removal triggered numerous attacks on minorities and on Christian churches as Egypt’s minority Coptic Christians were blamed for instigating Morsi’s departure. The Monastery of St. Katherine is an Orthodox Christian institution and struggles to remain outside of the political fray, noting that it is strictly controlled by the cultural authorities.

General Attiya, the religious press and certain government officials have raised claims that the monastery is anti-Egyptian. In various statements and court filings this year, General Attiya has accused the monks of having changed the topography of the area, of having hidden the so-called 12 streams of Moses, of having taken possession of 20 percent of the land in southern Sinai, and of having turned the monastery into an area occupied by Greece and by the European Union. Salafist media in Egypt supporting the General’s claims have accused the Monastery of complicity with the Israeli intelligence services and of threatening Egypt’s national security.

The monastery’s lawyer, former Member of Parliament Ehab Ramzy, has denied all of Attiya’s claims against the monastery and its monks. He noted that the monks at Saint Catherine’s are not authorized to even paint a wall without permission from Egypt’s antiquities ministry, let alone build new structures.

The region relies heavily on tourist income and the surrounding Bedouin population is dependent on the monastery for its economy. Local representatives have spoken out in defense of the monastery and its integration into and support of the community. Monastery representatives have expressed concern that without revenue from visitors who stay at the monastery, they are unable to to pay the 400-strong workforce of local residents dependent upon them. According to   Sheikh Ahmed El-Jebaly of the Bedouin Jebeliya tribe which has guarded the monastery for 1400 years, “The peace that has existed between the monks and the Bedouin people has made Sinai an emblem of peace.”

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Image: By Sgt. James M. McDonald (English, 1822 – 1885) (1822 – 1885) (English) (photographer, Details of artist on Google Art Project) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Image: Mt. Sinai. By Studio31 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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