Egypt prosecutors probing monk’s death in desert monastery

In this Feb. 5, 2013 file photo, clergymen walk through the gate of the historic al-Muharraq Monastery, a centuries-old site in the province of Assiut, Egypt. (AP)
Updated 26 September 2018

Egypt prosecutors probing monk’s death in desert monastery

  • The monk’s death was announced in a brief statement issued by the Coptic Orthodox Church
  • It said the cause of his death at the Al-Muharraq monastery in southern Egypt remained unknown

CAIRO: In an incident that brought the woes of one of the world’s oldest churches back under the spotlight, Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church said on Wednesday that prosecutors are investigating the death of a monk who had until recently served in a monastery northwest of Cairo where the abbot was killed in July.
Two monks — one of whom has been defrocked — are on trial for the death of the abbot, Bishop Epiphanius. The trial opened Sunday and was scheduled to resume Thursday when, according to security officials, the deceased monk was to give his testimony.
The monk, identified by the church by his monastic name Zeinoun Al-Maqari, was the “confessional father” of one of the monks on trial, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
The monk’s death was announced in a brief statement issued by the Coptic Orthodox Church. It said the cause of his death at the Al-Muharraq monastery in southern Egypt remained unknown. However, security and medical officials said they could not rule out suicide. An initial examination of the body suggested that poisoning might have been the cause of death, they said.
A full autopsy to determine the cause of death was due to be performed, they said.
The body was kept under tight security in a hospital in Assiut, the nearest city to Al-Muharraq monastery where the monk served since August. The monastery was also sealed off by police and security officers who were reviewing footage from its security cameras.
The church statement said Zeinoun was transferred to Al-Muharraq monastery following Epiphanius’ death. That suggested the monk may have been involved in a now-publicized disciplinary dispute between the abbot and several monks at St. Macarious, which required the intervention of the spiritual leader of the church, Pope Tawadros II.
The security officials said Zeinoun’s name also came up as a possible accomplice in the abbot’s killing during lengthy questioning of witnesses by prosecutors.
Zeinoun was one of six monks transferred out of St. Macarious monastery as part of efforts to instill greater discipline. At the time, the church slapped a yearlong suspension on the admission of novices, threatened to expel monks found to have established “illegal” monasteries and gave monks a month to shut down social media accounts. It also forbade unauthorized media interviews.
Epiphanius’ killing has shaken Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, which introduced monasticism to the faith, but its monastic desert traditions had largely vanished before being revived over the past century.
The July killing took on added significance because monks were the main suspects. It also exposed a side of the church that few in Egypt — Muslim or Christian — knew existed, including the growing power and independence of monks in remote monasteries who appear to be at odds with Tawadros and the church’s central leadership.
The security officials said Zeinoun was dying when monks went to his cell in the small hours to fetch him for vespers. He was rushed to hospital but died before he arrived there, they said. A photo of him released by the church suggests he was in his 30s or early 40s.
News of Wednesday’s death broke at a time when the church was in the spotlight again.
An embarrassing video widely shared on social media networks surfaced this week, showing US-based Coptic Bishop Ioannis offering Egyptian Christians in New Jersey free transportation, sandwiches and sodas to travel to New York to cheer visiting President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.
“Come out for the sake of God, for the sake of the church and your families,” he told a gathering assembled at a New Jersey church. “The buses will be free, so come, it would be a change of weather and a chance to see New York. We will also bring you sandwiches and sodas.”
El-Sisi is in New York to attend the annual UN General Assembly and meet world leaders on the sidelines. Video footage of him in New York show several dozen Egyptian expatriates waving flags and carrying images of the Egyptian leader.
“We need two buses. God will bless them and when they are video graphed they will look like they are 10,” he said.


Nile dam dispute spills onto social media

Updated 10 July 2020

Nile dam dispute spills onto social media

CAIRO: As Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan struggle to resolve a long-running dispute over Addis Ababa’s dam megaproject on the Nile, some of their citizens are sparring online over their rights to the mighty waterway.
For nearly a decade, multiple rounds of talks between Cairo, Addis Ababa and Khartoum have failed to produce a deal over the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
Anxiety has mounted in downstream Sudan and Egypt, which fear for their vital water supplies after upstream Ethiopia declared plans to start filling Africa’s largest dam reservoir in July.
As tensions have run high in the political arena, they have also amped up online.
In one widely viewed video originally shared on TikTok, an Ethiopian woman pours water from a pitcher into two cups representing Egypt and Sudan.
She fills Sudan’s cup to the brim but only pours a trickle of water into Egypt’s, before emptying the water back into the pitcher.
“This is my water. When I give you water, it’s my call, not yours,” she says.
In response, an Egyptian woman created a compilation of the video and one of her own in which she knocks down a dam-shaped block structure with the Ethiopian flag superimposed on it before triumphantly downing a cup of water.
The video had been viewed more than 55,000 times on Instagram by Wednesday.
Social media “platforms are powerful,” said Wubalem Fekade, communications head at the intergovernmental ENTRO-Nile Basin Initiative.
“People on the social media platforms aren’t accountable, so it’s easy to disseminate unverified, incorrect, false, even conspiracy theories,” he said.
But, he added hopefully, “when used creatively and judiciously, they can help defuse tensions.”
The online row over the dam has been particularly heated between Egyptian and Ethiopian social media users.
Egypt has long enjoyed the lion’s share of the Nile water under decades-old agreements that were largely viewed by other Nile basin countries as unfair.
On Twitter, Egyptians echoed authorities’ fears that Ethiopia’s dam would severely cut their country’s supply of water from the Nile, which provides 97 percent of the arid nation’s water needs.
“We will never allow any country to starve us” of water, Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris wrote on Twitter.
“If Ethiopia doesn’t come to reason, we, the Egyptian people will be the first to call for war,” he threatened.
Egyptian cartoonist Ahmed Diab has weighed in with a drawing of an outsized Egyptian soldier, rifle slung over his shoulder, facing a diminutive Ethiopian man with the dam in the background.
“You idiot, try to understand that I care for you ... ever heard about the Bar Lev Line?” the soldier tells the Ethiopian, alluding to Egypt’s military strength in referring to the Egyptian destruction of an Israeli defense line along the Suez canal in 1973.
Diab called the cartoon part of a “psychological war.”
“Besides a show of military might and strong media discourse, arts can boost people’s morale,” he said.
For their part, Ethiopians have rallied behind their country’s mega project, set to become Africa’s largest hydroelectric installation.
On social media, they have rejected any conditions of reaching a deal before filling the dam.
Filling the dam should not be held “hostage” to an agreement with Cairo, Ethiopian activist Jawar Mohamed wrote on Twitter.
“If agreement is reached before the filling begins in the coming days, it’s great. If not, the filling should begin and the negotiation shall continue,” he said.
Ethiopia, one of Africa’s fastest growing economies, insists the dam will not affect the onward flow of water and sees the project as indispensible for its national development and electrification.
Khartoum hopes the dam will help regulate flooding, but in June it warned that millions of lives will be at “great risk” if Ethiopia unilaterally fills the dam.
In a letter to the UN Security Council, Sudan raised concerns that water discharged from the GERD could “compromise the safety” of its own Roseires Dam by overwhelming it and causing flooding.
Omar Dafallah, a Sudanese artist, depicted Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed overseeing the water flowing from the dam through a faucet to fill a jug held by Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
The drawing also shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi with a large water container, waiting in line.
Last month, Egypt also appealed to the UNSC to intervene in the crisis — a move El-Sisi said underlined his country’s committment to a political solution.
Egyptian lawmaker Mohamed Fouad views the online debate as a way to “break the stalemate” in the diplomatic talks, “so long as they remain within the boundaries of healthy discussions.”