On Sunday, January 6, 2019, President Sisi of Egypt stood alongside His Holiness Pope Tawadros II in an historic event at the inauguration of the largest Coptic Church throughout the entire Middle East.
Whereas this may have certainly been a day to celebrate, one must ask themself if this was simply a token to placate the 15-18 Million Coptic Christians throughout the world. Although the cost of the Cathedral, which will hold roughly 8,200 people, was covered by the Church at the steep price of $12 Million (or roughly 216 Million Egyptian pounds), the land was donated by the State for the new complex.
However, once again another incident occurred in the village of Mansheyat Zaafarana (El Minya) home to approximately 1,000 Coptic Christians. Following an attack on St. George Church by extremist Islamists on Coptic Christmas (January 7th), the police removed the perpetrators from the church, before 2 Coptic priests and some of the members were escorted to safety.
Yet, today once again Islamists gathered in front of the church, while chanting offensive and provocative statements during service.
The police came to disperse the gathering, but did not leave before halting the worship and promising the perpetrators that the Church would be closed. In an official statement by the Diocese of Minya, the spokesperson said that “Although it is not the first place to close, the common denominator is to comply with the desire of the hardliners and impose their will whenever they want.” Mob rule cannot be allowed to override a high functioning, equitable legal system.
The statement went on to explain that on December 27, 2018, the Church of St. Ruies in the Mansour District of El Minya was also closed under similar circumstances.
As much as the Copts may be grateful for the celebration on January 6th and the inauguration of the new Cathedral, these continuous attacks against Coptic Churches must be systematically opposed through education and ongoing government programs, along with the implementation of laws protecting the religious freedom of Copts to worship, and the enforcement of those laws.
One place to begin is by amending the current Church Building Law, while expeditiously investigating this incident and moving swiftly to reopen the church. Indeed there is a beautiful Church that was opened in the New Administrative Capital of Egypt – albeit existing in an area with very few people living in it – however there still remains thousands of Churches unable to get a building permits or licenses from their local officials. Rather than just easing the laws from the previous poor standards, the current administration should continue the progress towards equity in the standards for all houses of worship. So long as the laws maintain inequity – and the enforcement of them continues to be inconsistent – irrespective of the efforts the current administration is making, this culture of barbarism will remain in these small villages where the most vulnerable are easily targeted.