Â Ahmed Ragai Attiya says that the historic UNESCO site in South Sinai poses a threat to Egypt’s national security, after the monks turned it into ‘a place for foreigners’
Muslims are at best indifferent, at worst murderously hostile to, the preservation of non-Muslim sites. The world knows about how, with the aid of Pakistani engineers, the Bamiyan Buddhas were finally blown up by the serious Sunnis of the Taliban. But is it aware of how many Buddhist temples, stelae (along the fabled Silk Road, for example), and statues of the Buddha have been destroyed by Muslims? How many, outside of India and the devotees of the BJP and Hindutva, are aware of the Hindu temples and temple complexes — Sita Ram Goal devoted two volumes just to laconically listing them– destroyed by Muslims? How many know that the first mosque in India was actually a Jain temple — the inoffensive, wouldn’t-swat-a-fly, reverence-for-life-long-before-Albert Schweitzer Jains — first? How many know that the nose of the Sphinx was blown off not by Napoleon’s troops,Â but long before, by Turks (Mamluks) who had no interest in what the Infidels of the Jahiliya (the pre-Islamic world of Ignorance) had buiilt? How many know that along with the vandalism — the crosses broken off, the eyes of the paintings blacked outÂ — of the paintings in the Hagia Sophia — that hundreds of churches were destroyed in Constantinople (there’s a model of Constantinople, pre-1453, still for some reason available for viewing on the top floor of the Museum of Classical Antiquities in the Topkapi complex — but few visit it, and many do not know it is there)? Who knows how many synagogues have been destroyed all over the Middle East and North Africa, long before 1949 when the Arabs, having seized the Old City, blew up every one of its three dozen synagogues (which is why, when you visit the Jewish Quarter today, all the stone in the buildings is so spanking new)?
And the most austere of Muslims, the Wahhabis, even have set aboutÂ destroying the monuments in Mecca, such as an Ottoman fort, and even dwellings associated with Muhammad himself.
Now, in Egypt, where excitable madnesses of every sort, and confusion prevails — for the source of Egyptian woe, Islam itself, cannot be recognized by its own adherents, and so the Al-Sisi supporters, having endured the rule of the primitive Ikhwan man, Mohammed Morsi, are determined to do away with the Muslim Brotherhood, but many are also flailing about, some determined to show how Musliim they still are, despite being anti-Muslim Brotherhoood, by assuring one and all ofÂ how anti-Israel they can be — in the usualÂ plus-royaliste-que-le-roiÂ spirit that is to be expected in such situations.
AndÂ here is an Egyptian general, calling for the destruction of St. Catherine’s Monastery.
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A retired army general says he has filed a court case pushing for Egypt’s historic Saint Catherine’s Monastery to be demolished and its Greek monks deported on the grounds that they pose a threat to national security.
In May 2012, Ahmed Ragai Attiya obtained 71 administrative orders regarding the demolition of the monastery’s multiple churches, monk cells, gardens and other places of interest on the grounds, which he claims were all built in 2006 and thus not historic, according to Ihab Ramzy, the monastery’s lawyer.
However, in an interview with private channel ONTV on Thursday, Attiya said that he has now used the 71 orders to file an official demolition suit with Ismailiya’s Administrative Court against the monastery and 10 of the Egyptian authorities concerned, including the president, ministers of tourism and antiquities and the governor of South Sinai, where Saint Catherine’s is located.
In the same ONTV interview, Attiya levelled a host of accusations against the monastery’s monks, alleging that they have changed the names of landmarks in the surrounding area and tried to hide an underground water source known as Moses’ Well (Oyun Moussa).
He also took issue with them supposedly raising the Greek flag on Egyptian land and turning the site into an area occupied by foreigners, both which he says are a breach of national security and Egyptian sovereignty.
Most of the Saint Catherine’s 37 monks are Greek.
Attiya, who in 1978 founded the Egyptian army’s special operations unit, made similar accusations regarding the monastery at the Journalists Syndicate in downtown Cairo in February.
Ramzy, the monastery’s lawyer, told Ahram Online that he denies all of Attiya’s claims against the monastery and its monks.
The abbot and monks at Saint Catherine’s are not authorised to even paint a wall without permission from Egypt’s antiquities ministry, let alone build new structures, Ramzy said, adding that the personnel on site are only there to guard the monastery.
“[It’s] one of the oldest, continuously inhabited Christian monasteries, with a history that can be traced back over 17 centuries, and is under the supervision of Egypt’s antiquities ministry and UNESCO,” Ramzy said.
He said South Sinai’s antiquities department had sent an official letter to Egypt’s antiquities ministry, clearing the monastery of Attiya’s complaints from 2012.
Attiya, as the plaintiff in the case, has yet to provide evidence of his accusations. The court has since referred the case to an internal panel of experts to determine whether or not the monastery is indeed a historical place and if Moses’ Well lies underneath the site.
The case has been postponed to June 2014, pending the findings of the panel.
Attiya’s accusations also include the Bedouin inhabitants of the region, who he claims have betrayed Egypt by guarding what he calls “the Greek occupants” – i.e. the monks.
Sheikh Ahmed El-Jebaly – speaking on behalf of the Jebeliya tribe which has guarded the monastery for 1400 years – denied the accusations, stressing that his tribe would never allow anyone to attack the monastery or any other place in the area.
“The peace that has existed between the monks and the Bedouin people has made Sinai an emblem of peace” that has served pilgrims and visitors of different faiths, languages and culture, El-Jebaly said, speaking at a press conference last week at the headquarters of the Al-Tagammu Party in downtown Cairo.
Regarding illegal structures, El-Jebaly said that the only “settlements” in the town of Catherine, near the monastery, consist of a housing project authorised by local authorities.
Saint Catherine’s Monastery was built between 548 and 565 on the site thought to be the location of the burning bush, where Moses is believed to have spoken with God and been told that he was to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.
The monastery gets its name from a Christian martyr named Catherine, who according to legend was delivered by angels to monastery and then later buried there by monks after she was beheaded around the year 800.