Egypt unveils renovations to old monastery
ZAAFARANA, Egypt - The country’s antiquities chief unveiled the completion of an eight-year, $14.5 million restoration of the world’s oldest Christian monastery yesterday, touting it as a sign of Christian-Muslim coexistence.
The announcement at the 1,600-year-old St. Anthony’s Monastery came a month after Egypt’s worst incident of sectarian violence in more than a decade, when a shooting at a church on Orthodox Christmas Eve killed seven people.
The attack raised heavy criticism of the Egyptian government abroad and at home, by critics who say it has not done enough to address tensions between the country’s Muslim majority and its Christian population, estimated at 10 percent of the 79 million population.
The government insists that the shooting was a purely criminal act with no sectarian motives, and officials deny the existence of significant Muslim-Christian frictions.
Top archeologist Zahi Hawass took the opportunity to reiterate that stance, showing journalists the work at St. Anthony’s, an ancient compound at the foot of the desert mountains near Egypt’s Red Sea coast.
“The announcement we are making today shows to the world how we are keen to restore the monuments of our past, whether Coptic, Jewish, or Muslim,’’ he said, referring to the dominant Orthodox Coptic Christian sect in Egypt.
“The incident in Upper Egypt can happen between two brothers,’’ said Hawass when asked whether there was any connection between the Jan. 6 shooting and the timing of his announcement at the monastery.