Middle East and North Africa

Coptic Church denies arming youths against Islamic State


The Egyptian Coptic church has denied allegations that it will give military training to its youths and scouts to fight radical Islamic jihadists following recent terror attacks on St Mark Church in Alexandria, St George Church in Tanta, St Peter and St Paul Churches in Cairo.

Al-Dostor, a local Arabic publication in Egypt, reported (20 June), that the “Egyptian Interior Ministry denied a request from Coptic Church leaders to provide church scouts with military training and training on carrying weapons following the attacks on Copts in Minya last month.”

The report created a lot of anxiety in many communities in the country. The media report was denied by the Rev. Boulos Halim, spokesman for the Orthodox Church, who said it was the Interior Ministry that approached the church asking to train the scouts.

“The Bishop of Minya turned down the offer to train church scouts and denied any accusations and allegations that the church is seeking to obtain weapons. This is the stance of the entire Orthodox Church.” He said, “it doesn’t make sense for church leaders to decline training and then three days later demand that the Interior Ministry provide scouts with weapons.”

Reports have confirmed that the Minya Security Directorate of the Interior Ministry had extend an offer to the Church leadership, to provide military training to the scouts in the churches. The offer by the ministry was turned down by the church.

Bishop Anba Makarios of Minya governorate said, “Scouts do not assume the role of police, whether inside or outside church premises. … Securing church premises is the responsibility of police, while young scouts assist internally and distinguish between the church community members and outsiders.” Bishop Makarios said training youths in the Church for any type of military capabilities will be misinterpreted by “sick-minded people” to mean the church was forming military wing, and indication of the Hamas-Palestinian situation and this, he says is unacceptable in any church.

Rev. Halim added that scouts are only trained on “organizational matters, such as how to escort guests on church visits and identifying strangers or suspicious persons.”

He said definitely this “is not security training. Organizational training relates to identifying and reporting dangers, while security training involves repelling and dealing with these dangers. The latter is the job of the police, so we are opposed to training (scouts) in these matters,” he added.

Critics, however, still insisted that is was possible that there are people or even clergy, who might have called for militarizing Christian youth to serve as a defense corps in churches.

Bishop Makarios said, in a statement on 17 June, that “Some had previously accused the church of storing weapons, but the destruction of dozens of churches in different governorates across the country… has proven conclusively that this is not true,” Makarios said. “Terrorists did not find any weapons, or they would have immediately revealed them. If churches had weapons stored on their premises, logically they would have used them to defend themselves during attacks.” The Bishop said.

The Egyptian Coptic Church has youths who are members of the Church Scouts called kashaafa in Arabic. The youth group trains young men and women in social skills, creativity, character building and self-reliance. But never in arms and military skills.

Retired Colonel Khaled Okasha, Director of the National Center for Security Studies, told Al-Monitorthe churches are vulnerable because security is disorganized. “Terrorists were able to enter churches through the security gaps created by tasking numerous parties with protecting and securing church premises, such as the Interior Ministry, church scouts and church administrative security. Reorganization is needed and security services and tasks should be entrusted only to the Interior Ministry to avoid any confusion,” he said.