US Congress bill on Coptic churches: Irrelevant and irrational

04-01-2017 04:32 PM

Nader Shukry









As 2016 drew to a close, Egyptians and Copts found themselves embroiled in an issue which the majority saw as both irrelevant and irrational. Irrelevant because it tackled a predicament that was already resolved and was therefore a non-issue, and irrational because it constituted flagrant foreign intervention in Egyptian domestic affairs.

News had circulated that a bill sponsored by US Congressman David A. Trott under the title “Coptic Churches Accountability Act” had been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The bill directs the Department of State, until 2021, to “submit an annual report describing the progress made in restoring or repairing Christian religious property and property owned by Christians in Egypt that was damaged or destroyed during the August 2013 sectarian violence; the implementation of the law Egypt passed in 2016 that imposes significant burdens on church building; and the nature and extent of Egyptian laws and policies regarding the construction of Christian churches or places of worship. 

“The State Department shall ensure that each country report on human rights practices for Egypt and each report on international religious freedom contains a summary of the progress made in restoring religious property; and a list of each Christian church, place of worship, or other Christian religious property and each item of property belonging to a Christian church that was damaged or destroyed.”

The State Department currently issues an annual report on the state of religious freedom in 195 different countries, including Egypt.

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Where were you in 2013?

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on 29 December that the bill contains “errors inconsistent with reality,” explaining that Egypt did not witness ‘sectarian violence’ in 2013 but ‘terrorist attacks by an illegal group [The Muslim Brotherhood, MB]’. Ahmed Abu-Zaid, Spokesperson for the Ministry, said that the Ministry had assigned the Egyptian embassy in the US to deal with the issue on the diplomatic level.

Watani’s Angele Reda reports that the Human Rights Committee of Egypt’s parliament denounced the bill. Alaa’ Abed, who heads the committee, said that the congressional act contradicts parliamentary traditions and rules all over the world since it as good as condones intervention in the internal affairs of sovereign countries. He added that the bill ignored the repair and restoration work which the Egyptian Armed Forces had done and is already doing on the damaged churches and establishments; 90 per cent of those damaged in 2013 have already been restored, and the remaining are scheduled to be completed in January 2017.

The Coptic Orthodox Church conclusively rejected the bill, and said that the government has carried out its “full duty in repairing and renovating the churches,” a process it said is nearing completion as pledged by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. “Egyptian national unity is above all, and can never be compromised,” the Church added.

“In view of the government’s and army’s work in restoring what the MB damaged,” said Anba Macarius, Bishop of Minya, “the bill is totally meaningless and irrelevant.”

Father Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Catholic Church in Egypt, also denounced the American bill. Addressing the US Congress, he sarcastically asked: “Where were you when the MB looted and burned our churches in 2013?”

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State stands by Copts

Reverend Andrea Zaky, head of the Evangelical Community in Egypt, said that Egyptian Churches reject all foreign interference in Egypt’s affairs. A statement he issued said that the Egyptian government has stood by the country’s Christians since the 30 June 2013 Revolution, and has restored most of the churches and Christian establishments rampaged and ruined by the MB. He said that 90 per cent of the Evangelical churches and property had already been restored and handed over to the Church.

Yet another rejection of the bill came from the American Coptic Association which said that it saw nothing to justify such a bill at this time when the Egyptian State has already restored some 90 per cent of the damaged buildings.

The 2013 Islamist terrorist attacks took place in vengeance against the 33-million-strong Egyptian revolution on 30 June 2013, which together with the military, succeeded in overthrowing the MB rule that had come to power on the heels of the 2011 Arab Spring. On 14 August 2013, the police dispersed the six-week-long MB sits-in in the Cairo Rabaa Square and the Giza al-Nahda Square, and the Islamists retaliated by synchronised, systematic attacks against Egypt’s Copts. Five Copts and a Muslim were killed, scores were injured, and 84 churches and Christian establishments—schools, hospitals, orphanages—and property in 66 sites nationwide were looted, ruined, and set ablaze. []

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90 per cent completed

With a budget of EGP300 million, the Armed Forces has almost completed the restoration of the churches and Christian establishments that were rampaged at the hands of the MB and their supporters in 2013, Maged George of the Coptic Orthodox Church’s Crisis Committee declared. Led by Anba Pimen, Bishop of Negada [Naqada] and Qous, the committee has been closely following all the restoration work, and has delegated experts from the Church’s side to oversee the works. The ruined churches and Christian property which amounted to 84 buildings in 66 sites, included 50 per cent that belonged to the Coptic Orthodox Church, 30 per cent to the Evangelical Church and 20 per cent to the Catholic Church, Dr George explained.

The Church took up the restoration of 22 of the 66 sites, since they had suffered sustainable damage. The Armed Forces, he explained, took up the restoration of 44 sites; the work was divided into three phases. The first two phases included 10 sites each, and the third and final phase includes 24 sites, 90 per cent of which have been completed and handed over to the Church. The remaining 10 per cent of are located in Minya, Beni Sweif, Arish, Giza and Suez, and are currently seeing the final touches of restoration. Dr George pointed out that the Cabinet paid out EGP90 million for the restoration works, and the Armed Forces shouldered the remaining EGP210 million.

A report issued by the Crisis Committee detailed the restoration work so far achieved; this comprised the first and second phases of the full restoration plan. It said that the Coptic Orthodox churches restored lay in 13 parishes, from south to north: Sohag, Assiut, Minya, Mallawi, Beni Mazar, Maghagha, Samalout, Dalga, Beni Sweif, Fayoum, Giza, Suez, and Arish.

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Restored for New Year 2017

The third and last phase of restoration is expected to be completed within the coming few days. It involves 20 churches and Christian establishments owned by the Coptic Orthodox Church in Arish, North Sinai; Kirdassa, Giza; and Dalga, Minya. It also includes 11 buildings owned by the Catholic Church and six owned by the Evangelical Church. In Arish in North Sinai, the damages incurred by the Mar-Girgis church were so significant that the church had to be brought down and reconstructed; 80 per cent of the work on Mar-Girgis is now complete.

In case of the 4th – 5th century churches of the Holy Virgin in Dalga, Minya and Archangel Michael in Giza, the Armed Forces called in restoration experts to restore the churches.

A few days ago, the Armed Forces completed the restoration of the Boutrossiya church in Cairo in record time. [] Boutrossiya was the target of the most recent terrorist attack when a suicide bomber blew up himself there during Sunday Mass on 11 December 2016. The bombing claimed 27 lives, and left scores injured; the church itself incurred extensive damage. By order of President Sisi, the church was restored by the Construction Department of the Armed Forces and handed over to the Church in time to celebrate Kiahk Praises on 2017 New Year Eve. Electronic gates and CCTV cameras were installed inside and outside the church to ensure security.

A team of Italian experts is working on the restoration of the Boutrossiya’s frescoes and icons.


Watani International

4 January 2017



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