Sunday, June 18, 2006

Presidential Decree is Without Effect.

Mr.Youssef Sidhom writes in the Watani weekly about the stark discrimination in the procedure to obtain a church building permit in Egypt.

The presidential decree of December 2005 provided remarkable procedural facilities to church building. The decree moved the approval of the rebuilding of already existing churches form the president’s hands into those of the governors. It stipulated a 30-day deadline, since the submission of a rebuilding application and the consultation of authorities concerned, for an approval to be issued. No application could be rejected without an official explanation. As for the restoration of churches, approvals were no longer required; it was sufficient to notify the administration.

Although the decree was widely praised, there were worries that it would be emptied of its content by the administration’s arbitrary instructions, as previous ones had been. So we insisted that only a unified law for building places of worship would ever attain equality among Egyptians—as stipulated by the Constitution —in that respect. Presidential decrees, if implemented properly instead of being trifled with, were indeed helpful in eliminating some hindrances to building churches, but these decrees were in themselves a telling sign of the inequality of Egyptians. Churches alone required such decrees to be built, while mosques were subject to no restrictions whatsoever.

Our worries materialised as the administration saved no effort to hinder the implementation of the decree. The executive instructions issued by some governors inadequately confused demolishing with rebuilding, restoring, repairing, and the like; the result being that the entire process was again placed under the thumb of the administration. Arbitrary instructions insisting on providing the original building permits of the churches, no matter how old were a further complication. In some cases the permits had been issued by royal decrees—the monarchy was abolished in 1953. Did the administration ever ask for the royal building permit of a mosque? Furthermore, the countless small village and hamlet churches which had been erected without permits, due to years of failure of the congregation to obtain the required permits, were targeted.

The fact that the civil and security authorities put these churches under their thumb, and kept a close eye on what went on inside—be it even the reparation of toilets—in an adamant attempt to stop any improvements, implied that the authorities acknowledged the existence of the churches. But when matters came to rebuilding or restoring them, the administration appeared to have been hit with a sudden fit of amnesia as to how the churches were built in the first place. They forgot the humiliation of the congregation in pleading for and pursuing approvals which never came, and disregarded the fact that many churches were built upon verbal approval. The authorities turned a blind eye to unlicensed churches, but later used this fact to hinder restoration.