A return to life, but what life?

25-09-2013 07:43 PM

Some six weeks following the horrendous Islamist attack against the Copts in revenge for the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood regime of President Muhammad Mursi, how are Copts faring?

The tally of the Coptic losses is staggering. According to Pope Tawadros II, close to 100 churches and church-owned establishments have suffered various degrees of destruction: some were burnt down and are a total loss while others escaped with minor damages. But the back-breaking loss has been in Coptic homes and private property, the number of which Pope Tawadros places at some 1000, mercilessly destroyed at the hands of the Islamists. 
Today, some six weeks following the horrendous Islamist attack against the Copts in revenge for the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood regime of President Muhammad Mursi, Copts cannot afford to ruminate on the losses; all efforts should be directed towards rebuilding. Shattered lives; homeless, destitute families; and anguished souls cannot be left without repair.

The easy part: the churches
Perhaps the easiest to repair are the churches. ‘Easiest’ not because it’s an easy task, but because it is concrete and well defined and, more important, because the Armed Forces have already pledged to do the rebuilding. The army is known to keep its word; it did that before when it rebuilt the church of the Holy Virgin in Sol, Giza back in March 2011; and the church of the Holy Virgin in Imbaba, Cairo in May of the same year. Both had been burned by Islamists. 
A technical commission from the Armed Forces is inspecting the burnt and damaged churches. The commission began with the southern governorates of Sohag and Assiut in Upper Egypt, moved northwards to Minya, and is proceeding further north to Fayoum, Beni Sweif and Giza. 
Accompanying the military commission is another from the Housing Ministry to precisely assess the construction work required.
Earlier this month the board of trustees of Egypt’s Council of Churches (ECC) said it would draw a list of the churches—Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical—ruined by the Islamists on 14 August for the armed forces commission. According to the ECC’s Rifaat Fathy, the list includes only the worst damaged churches, which number some 48. The churches and buildings which sustained damages the Church can repair were not placed on the list.
Mr Fathy said the damaged churches were listed in four categories: those completely burnt and require rebuilding since they are beyond repair, those that were ransacked and burned but the building still stands, those whose contents were looted, and those which sustained partial losses.
UNESCO has pledged to restore heritage buildings and items, including anything that concerns churches.
The hard part: the homes and livelihoods
The devastation of homes and livelihoods: businesses, shops, cattle, vehicles…has the potential of ruining lives. And given that Egypt is a place where the concept of insurance goes missing, literally none of the property lost was insured. Even if it were, insurance almost never covers losses due to rioting or unrest. So the Copts are left to fend for themselves. 
For the moment, the only source of finance for the rebuilding of homes or the restart of businesses has been donations, and these come in primarily through the Church. The State miserably failed to come up with any aid to cover the Copts’ losses. A few activists have been strongly demanding State aid; Watani’s Soliman Shafiq says it’s a disgrace that Copts are still being treated as though they are subjects of the Church not citizens of Egypt.  
In Minya and Assiut, the bishoprics have been handing in donations, but the sheer volume of the aid needed implicitly means these donations per person are modest. 
The Copts only managed to remove the rubble from their ruined homes and shops, but have no money to restart businesses or trade. “It was an Islamist operation (campaign) to debilitate the Coptic community and beat it to the ground,” one Assiuti bitterly said. “We saw and heard the Islamists single out the Coptic-owned shops for attack; they’d deliberately leave out the Muslim-owned ones and pick the Coptic. Now, so many businesses have lost everything; it would take millions of pounds to get them started again. And where on earth would these millions come from?” 
The daily needs and those of their families are barely covered, also through donations. 
 Watani launches a victim fund
Given that the only means to allow the victims to restart their broken lives is through donations, Watani has taken it upon itself to launch a fund to aid the victims. The effort is based on the paper’s meticulous documentation of the attacks and losses. Once the donations are collected, the sum will be divided among the victims each according to his needs. 
Donations are payable to:
Cash: at Watani offices: 27, Abdel-Khaleq Tharwat St, Cairo
Postal cheque: to be mailed to “Watani” c/o Ataba Post Office, and  the  paper is to be informed of the postal cheque number by phone: 01006060664
Bank cheque: sent to Watani address by registered mail
Bank transfer: to the account of Watani at the Bank of Alexandria:
                     EGP: A/C No. 101005580001
                     USD: A/C No. 101005580006
                     GBP: A/C No. 101005580008
                     Euro: A/C No. 101005580009
The paper should be informed of the transfer in writing, by mail, telefax, or email
‘Peaceful’ hate crimes
Kirdassa is a village that goes back in time to ancient Egypt when it was called Kildassa; the current name was fixed in 1228. Today it is famous as a tourist centre that manufactures and trades in characteristic textiles and galabiyas (the flowing heel-length garment worn by Egyptian peasant women). But the big village/small town is also notorious as an Islamist bastion that is home to stockpiles of arms harboured by the Islamists.
Reda Maher Ghattaas, a trader and Kirdassa resident, told Watani about the 14 August Islamist raid. “That day opened with the horrifying slaughter of 11 policemen and officers inside Kirdassa police station, at the hands of the Islamists, a crime which sends shivers down spines. They burned the police station and those in the other adjacent villages of Nahia, al-Mansuriya, and Kafr Hakim. After that—and till 19 August when the security forces and army stormed Kirdassa and its peripheral villages and restored State control—it was the Kirdassa Islamic emirate; there was no State; the place was an Islamist autonomous region. They then turned to the churches, looting and burning St Michael’s in Kirdassa, the Holy Virgin’s in Kafr Hakim and in Mansuriya. I was with seven other persons in the church when they broke in. They assaulted us; I managed to escape, but the others were injured; they all suffered broken bones.” Ironically, they screamed slogans of ‘Islamiya, Islamiya’ (literally, Islamic; meaning they demanded an Islamic State); and ‘Peaceful, peaceful’. Just what exactly was peaceful about what they were doing?”
The hardest part: broken psyches
 “Then it was the turn of our homes,” Mr Ghattas shudders as he recalls the incidents. I had run in and locked myself inside with my wife and children. My shop, which sells furniture, lies on the ground floor of the building; I could hear them ram the door and noisily loot everything inside. All I can remember now is my 10-year-old daughter in hysterics crying: ‘They’ll burn us alive, Papa.’ I kept on telling her that the Lord will protect us, and prayed with all my heart that He would do so, for the sake of the little children. Miraculously, the assailants finished off the shop and left.
“Now the children regularly have nightmares. What am I to tell them? I feel I personally am in need of help.”
Sadly, Mr Ghattas’s is not a lone experience; it is typical to almost all the victims of the 14 August attacks. They, children and adults alike, are obviously in need of therapy to be able to get on with their lives. It is hoped that this can be arranged on a wide scale through the relevant bishoprics.
Reporting by Robeir al-Faris, Nader Shukry, Basma William, Mariam Rifaat, Mervat Ayoub
WATANI International
25 September 2013
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