Problems on hold
Ever since the Law for Building and Restoring Churches was issued in September 2016, Watani has been closely following on the file of legalising existing unlicensed churches, promptly publishing all updates on that topic. The law stipulated that the Cabinet forms a committee to look into the cases of unlicensed churches and Church-affiliated community centres, provided they submit their files complete with all the required documents before 28 September 2017, one year after the law went into effect. The Coptic Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical Churches obliged; 3730 churches and Church-affiliated buildings submitted their files to the Cabinet committee. Since then, every so often, the committee would issue approvals for some number of these churches and service buildings. The most recent of the Cabinet’s decisions was issued on 21 April, and was directly posted by Watani on its website wataninet.com and printed on 12 May 2019; the detailed list of the newly licensed churches and community centre buildings was also duly posted and was printed on 19 May 2019.
The Prime Minister’s recent decision legalised the seventh batch of churches: 111 churches and affiliated buildings. It brought the total number of churches and affiliated buildings legalised to 864 out of an original 3730. This meant that in the span of 20 months since it started its work, the Cabinet committee completed 23 per cent of its task; the remaining 77 per cent, constituting 2866 cases, still wait to be addressed. At this rate, the committee would require 66 months—five-and-a-half years—to complete its work.
As I did in previous editorials, I would like to remind that the spirit in which the Law for Building and Restoring Churches, which included the provision for legalising existing unlicensed churches, was enacted never foresaw this tortoise pace under which the justice it is intended to achieve turns to injustice.
Before anyone says: “Does nothing ever satisfy those Copts!”, let me extend my sincere thanks and gratitude to the Cabinet Committee for its efforts in legalising churches. But let me also use the Egyptian folk prayer to ask for help from the Divine: “Oh God who eases difficulties! [Please help!]”. But I’m afraid the Egyptian folk wisdom that promotes patience: “So much is over, so little lies ahead”, must be used with a twist: “So little is over; so much lies ahead”.
19 May 2019