The Coptic villagers of Ezbet Hanna in al-Fashn, Beni Sweif, some 100km south
of Cairo, are being forced to hold their prayers out of doors, with no roof on their
head to protect them from the biting winter cold or sweltering summer heat. They
are obliged to pray under a ‘ceiling’ made of a sheet of plastic that is totally
inadequate in case of rain.
The church they had built back in 1963, which was consecrated in the name of
Mar-Girgis (St George), was built of mud brick and a wooden roof. Over the years,
the building became so run down that the walls cracked severely and the roof
caved in. The officials in charge of the church had to ask for a permit from Beni
Sweif governor to demolish the old building and build a new one in its place. The
church was built on 550 square metres, and today serves some 400 Coptic families
in Ezbet Hanna and in six hamlets in its vicinity.
Father Daoud Ghattas, priest of St George’s, told Watani that the church officials
had more than once filed applications to al-Fashn local government to demolish the
church and rebuild it. “We were given the demolition permit, and explicitly told
that the rebuilding permit can only be issued after the old building was demolished.
The local officials promised that once we pulled down the old church, they would
issue the rebuilding permit.
“Six months ago, we demolished the church and its fencing wall. But when we
asked for the rebuilding licence, we were amazed at the disregard we were met
with by the local officials. When we persisted in our demand, they resorted to
claiming that the old building was no church, but was a building that housed a
charity. In face of this preposterous claim we submitted all official papers that
prove it was a church, including the real estate tax for the church building the
bishopric has been paying throughout the past 23 years, and the requests to the
security apparatus to assign security for the church. The governor has referred the
issue to the legal affairs department which has as yet taken no decision or action
Fr Daoud has resorted to filing an appeal to the problem. He says: “We have the
right to a safe place of worship; a place that would respect our human dignity.”
21 December 2015