Fires at three churches in Egypt are 'not coincidence'

Mar Girgis Church in Mansoura on fire

Church leaders in Egypt are sounding the alarm after three Coptic churches were hit by fires in the last few weeks. 

Although investigations are still ongoing, church leaders told World Watch Monitor that the fires were "not a coincidence". 

One of the churches affected was Mar-Girgis (St George) al-Gyoushi Church in the Shubra district of the capital Cairo, where there was a fire in a hall on November 1 that was extinguished before causing any serious damage.  No one was injured in the fire. 

But in another fire on October 16 in the Mar-Girgis Orthodox Church in Mansoura, 120 kms northeast of Cairo, five people were injured, two of them firefighters. 

The wooden chapel on the upper floor of the church was completely destroyed as a result of the fire. 

Three days before that, the wooden Mar Girgis Orthodox church in Cairo's southern Helwan district, was gutted by fire.  There were no injuries.

It has been suggested that electrical fault triggered the fires, but church leaders question this theory. 

Father Samul Mohsen, a priest at the Mar Girgis Church in Mansoura, told World Watch Monitor that CCTV footage suggested something was thrown onto the roof from the vegetable market behind the church.

Father Armia Iskandar, a priest at the church and an electrical engineer by profession, believes it is unlikely that an electrical short circuit started the fire.

"When we built the church, we designed the electrical circuits in the best possible way and we make sure to switch everything off when we are not around. Also, the electricity distribution panel is equipped with devices to protect against overcurrent and high voltage rise," he said. 

A local source, who wished not to be named for security reasons, told World Watch Monitor that shortly before the incidents, Egyptian national security had asked the churches to check that their CCTV cameras were in working order.

"This indicates that the national security had information suggesting that some churches in Egypt would be attacked," the source said.

The Helwan church dates back to 1898, having been built originally by the German community before being taking over by the Copts in 1971 as a place of worship.

"Our loss is great. We have lost a great historical building and we can't rebuild anything like it," Father Andrawes Azmy, a priest at the church for 30 years, told World Watch Monitor.