Not only churches, mosques too

01-08-2015 01:01 AM

Youssef Sidhom

Problems on hold

Copts in Egypt have specific demands many of which remain unfulfilled. These demands pertain in the major part to rectifying the inequality between Copts and other Egyptians where citizenship rights are concerned. Not least among the unfulfilled demands are the Coptic Church’s requirement of a just law for the building and restoration of churches and a family law for Christians. All these demands are backed by the Constitution and are not open to negotiation, but we all know that they remain unfulfilled because they await a new parliament to pass them as law.

Copts thus anticipate legislative reform that would realise their aspirations for equality and full citizenship rights. This goes hand in hand with respect for the law, and equality in duties as well as rights. True, Copts still suffer from oppression and terrorist violence especially in Upper Egypt, but this is expected to come to an end once terrorism is defeated and the country attains security and stability under the rule of law.

I write this because I am concerned at the angry response of many Copts—including not a few of Watani’s reporters—regarding a letter sent by the Minister of Electricity to Pope Tawadros II. The letter informs the Pope, as head of the Egyptian Church, that the Ministry intends to install electricity metres in churches and that the churches will be required to pay for their electric consumption. So far, churches were exempt of paying for electricity; some say they were totally exempted in their capacity as places of worship, whereas others say that local government apparatuses paid for the electric consumption of churches.

Whatever the situation, I see no reason for anger, rejection, or protest owing to the reconsideration of a prevalent practice. It is not right to get carried away by sentiments that interpret the move as one directed against the Church. Propagators of such thought have reached the point of branding the move as the most recent attack against Copts, only this time it has been waged by none less than the State itself.

For the sake of accuracy and precision, I here cite the text of the letter the Minister of Electricity sent to Pope Tawadros:
“The Ministry of Electricity and Renewable Energy
“From the office of the Minister, on 18.06.2015
“To His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St Mark
“Kind greetings…

“This is to inform you that, in light of the President of the Republic’s review of topics that pertain to the electricity sector, the President held a meeting on 15.06.2015 during which he directed that pre-paid electricity metres should be installed in all places of worship (mosques/churches).
“Orders have already been issued to all electrical supply companies to execute the directive [install the pre-paid electricity metres]. The cost will be billed to the bodies affiliated to you once installation is completed.

“We kindly ask you to inform the bodies affiliated to you and give those in charge directions to cooperate with the electrical supply companies in order for this task to be executed as directed by the President.
“Kindly accept our full respects, kind regards and great appreciation of Your Holiness.
“Minister of Electricity and Renewable Energy,
Dr Muhammad Shaker al-Markabi”
The copy of the letter which came to my attention carried a hand-written remark dated 24.06.2015, possibly be Pope Tawadros, which read: His Grace Anba Raphaeil, Father Sergius: to relay this letter to all parishes and churches.
So the matter is not about exclusively targeting or harassing the Church; it is about a new State policy that would apply to all places of worship, mosques and churches. The Church leadership did not view the move as an attack against the Church, neither did it voice any protest against it; the Church rather directed that all parishes and churches should cooperate with the official authorities to implement the move.

I am keen to call attention to this matter in order for it to be placed in the correct light. It should not be unwisely exploited to generate a wrathful response that would be difficult to reason with or control. As to legitimate questions on how the poorer churches can afford to pay for their electricity consumption, such questions may be rationally and objectively explored and resolved in a calm climate not compounded by conspiracy theory. Only then can all involved reach a plausible, auspicious resolution of the problem.

Watani International
2 August 2015

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