Yesterday, 21 December, coincided with Watani’s 61st anniversary. Today, we embark on our 62nd year with aspirations for a new year into our flourishing media mission of enlightenment. We rally our determination to persist in publishing our weekly print paper edition despite the challenges and difficulties facing the print media. The rapidly increasing number of readers switching over to online media implies that it is only a matter of time for paper journalism to become redundant. Obviously, the media which will survive will be that which was able to make a seamless transition from the print to the online sphere. It is now almost 20 years since Watani has made that shift through its www.wataninet.com in preparation for the day when print journalism might very well go obsolete.
As 2019 comes to a close, it is fitting to contemplate the events, achievements, and failures of a year past, and what we stand to carry with us into 2020. This practice has become almost a tradition, and many writers will be dealing with this topic throughout the coming days. I will, however, tackle it by going through my 2019 “Problems on hold” series.
Sadly, attacks against Copts and their churches have repeatedly taken place throughout the last year. These attacks were prevalent in villages and hamlets where Muslim fundamentalists and fanatics reject the idea of a church in their midst, meaning that Christian villagers are victims of violence on account of having a church or planning to build one in their village. The common factor in all the attacks, however, has been the failure of local authorities to defend the constitutional right to freedom of worship for the Copts in their capacity as full Egyptian citizens. To justify their failure, these authorities resorted to falsifying the facts on two counts: First, by terming the attacks “sectarian incidents”, implying they were fights in which both sides equally attacked each other. But the bitter truth is that the Copts never attacked, they were victims of violent hatred. Second, the local authorities insisted the Copts should pay the bill for the violence against them by having their churches closed under the pretext of “maintaining social peace”. In other cases, the Copts were pushed into giving up the churches they had built long years ago inside their villages, to some spot on the outskirts of the village. The outcome is that, even if Copts did get alternative churches, the law was thrown to the wind by none other than the authorities in charge of upholding it, and the dignity of the State was lost, its authority handed on a gold platter to the fanatics who scream “we want no church in our village”. Worse, these fundamentalists have been well rewarded for their fanaticism, and a disastrous message of appeasement is relayed to others who may likewise decide to defy the State.
The Cabinet committee tasked with approving the legalisation of unlicensed churches and affiliated buildings, built before the 2016 Law for Building and Restoring Churches, has been working at a rather slow pace. We have been closely following on the work of the committee and making detailed readings into it. Is it too much to hope the committee would speed up its work to be able to complete it before 2021? At the current pace, it would take another four years to complete legalisation of the full 3730 churches and affiliated buildings requiring legal status. Since it started on its task on 28 September 2017, the committee has approved 1322 cases for legality, that is 35 per cent of the total.
It has been four years now since the 2014 Constitution gave Christians the right to their own Family Law that would accord with their doctrine. And it has been four years of waiting for a draft of that law to be drawn by the Churches in Egypt, and presented to the government to put before parliament. The government is blameless in this respect; the ball is in the Churches’ field where the draft law is still undergoing last touches and waiting for final approvals. We hope the long-awaited draft law sees light in 2020, so that it moves in to parliament.
This was a review of the most significant Coptic issues we carry with us into 2020; in the upcoming issue of Watani, I will draw a similar list of political and public issues that await the new year.
22 December 2019