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Ex-Egypt general wants UNESCO site demolished

High-profile ex-general Attiya alleges that the historical site of St. Catherine’s Monastery jeopardizes Egypt’s national security

Published: Updated:

Citing the supposed threat posed to national security, a retired Egyptian army general has filed a legal case in his efforts to see UNESCO-listed heritage site St. Catherine’s Monastery demolished, Ahram News website reported Sunday.

Ahmed Ragai Attiya claimed the monastery, in south Sinai, was not historic but built in 2006, adding that the area had become a haven for “foreigners.” Attiya also urged for the deportation of the monastery’s Greek monks as he claimed they jeopardizing Egypt’s national security.

The monastery’s lawyer, Ihab Ramzy, said that in May 2012 Attiya obtained 71 administrative orders to demolish the historic site’s multiple churches, monk living quarters, gardens and other places of interest in the grounds.

Attiya, who founded the Egyptian army’s special operations unit in 1978, said in an interview with private channel ONTV on Thursday that he had recently reinitiated his efforts to destroy the monastery.

The 76-year-old former general said he used the 71 orders to officially file a suit against the monastery and 10 other Egyptian related authorities, including the president, ministers of tourism and antiquities and the governor of the southern Sinai region.

He said he filed the legal case in the northeastern city of Ismailiya’s administrative court.

He alleged that the monks have changed the names of landmarks in the surrounding area and tried to hide an underground water source known as Moses’ Well, or Oyun Moussa, in Arabic.

He expressed agitation over the monastery’s raising of the Greek flag and foreigners occupying Egyptian land, which he described as a breach of national security and the country’s sovereignty.

Since Attiya needs to provide evidence for his allegations, the court has referred the case to a panel of experts to decide whether or not the monastery is historic and if Moses’ Well lies beneath the site.

The case has been postponed until June 2014, pending the findings of the panel.

Ramzy, meanwhile, rejected Attiya’s claims in an interview with Ahram Online.

He said Egypt’s authorities have long treated the monastery as a historic site, adding that the abbot and monks were not even authorized to paint a wall without permission from Egypt’s antiquities ministry.

He described the personnel on site as guards to protect the monastery.

He added: “[It’s] one of the oldest, continuously inhabited, Christian monasteries, with a history that can be traced back over 17 centuries, and is under the supervision of Egypt’s antiquities ministry and UNESCO.”

In 2012, South Sinai’s antiquities department cleared the claims against the monastery, the lawyer said.