By Essam Fadl
First Published: October 6, 2008
CAIRO: Three monasteries closed their doors Saturday following threats of vandalism in retaliation for the rumored killing of Wafaa Constantine, a priest’s wife who had reportedly converted to Islam and then back to Christianity in 2004.
The Orthodox Marmina Monastery in Alexandria, Mare Girgis in Beheira and Drenka in Assiut closed their doors to visitors and limited entry to monks. They bring the total of monasteries that closed due to security threats to six; three other monasteries in Wadi El Natron had closed their doors starting Sept. 23 to Oct. 14.
Large numbers of visitors frequent these monasteries at this particular time, thus having complete control over the security of the monks and the monasteries is considered impossible.
Sources at the Orthodox Church said that the closing was due to “concern that the monasteries and the monks would be subject to retaliation.”
“The decision to close the monasteries wasn’t a central one because the monastery’s head has the authority to close or open the place. The Church doesn’t revoke his decision,” Bishop Morqos of Shobra El Kheima, and the head of the media committee at the Holy Synod, told Daily News Egypt.
However, Ramses El Naggar, Coptic lawyer close to Pope Shenouda, said that security officials asked him to convince the monasteries’ heads to open them to visitors, while the authorities would tighten security and guarantee the safety of the monks.
“I told the security officials that the decision to close the monasteries can’t be changed because it has to do with the monks’ lives,” El Naggar said.
More monasteries could close, El Naggar added. The ones that are already closed could extend the closure beyond Oct. 14, he continued.
The security threats came on the heels of an interview Islamic scholar Zaghloul El Naggar gave to El Wasat website accusing the Church of killing Constantine. The interview was also published by the weekly paper Al-Khamis.
In response, Pope Shenouda, who’s currently on a medical trip in the United States, agreed to let Constantine appear on TV to nullify the rumors of her death.
Constantine, a priest’s wife and an agriculture engineer from Beheira, was at the center of extensive media coverage in 2004, when reports surfaced that she converted to Islam and then back to Christianity.
This led to protests on both sides: Coptic youth demonstrated at the Cairo Cathedral demanding handing her over to the church, while Muslim students held similar demonstrations at Al Azhar University demanding handing her over to Al Azhar.
In an investigation at the Ain Shams Prosecution Office, Constantine said she “was born Christian and would die Christian.” She was handed over to the Church after the court ruled against Islamic scholar Youssef El Badry, who demanded the woman be handed over to Al Azhar.
Media took interest in Constantine again following Zaghloul El Naggar’s interview, in which he claimed she was killed for refusing to return to Christianity.