Giza governorate officials have vociferously cast the blame for the recent riots in Talbiya and Umraniya on the Copts. The Copts, they said, are fully to blame for violating the terms of the building permit for a social services building and converting part of it into a church. The claim is misleading and embodies an uneven situation embraced by our officials and exploited every time they are in a position to blame.
Before going into the details of the uneven field we have long been treading, let me pose the question: Why is it that the Copts appear to invariably build their churches in violation of the law? Are the Copts famous for violating the law? Do they build their homes, shops, or businesses in violation of the law? Why don’t we ever hear of Muslims building a non-licensed mosque, or that the security forces have attempted to demolish a mosque because it was built without licence? Are the Copts the only Egyptians adept at violating the law, or who just love to build churches without licence?
The answers to these questions take us back to square 1: to the root of the ailment so frequently sidelined by the very officials that have caused it. The root of the ailment is that, contrary to mosques which require no licence in the first place to build, the Copts are deprived of licence to build churches. An application to build a church takes them into a seemingly endless dark tunnel through which they are treated to the epitome of humiliation, suffering, and indignity till, in more than nine cases out of ten, their application is rejected. Finally, they find no other way but to smuggle a place to worship into some other building not likely to be rejected by the oppressive authorities. This bitter reality exposes the more gruesome one of the all but impossible probability of being able to build a fully-licensed church. In the recent Talbiya case it was not the fact that the Copts managed to smuggle their church into the services building that caused all the trouble, it was their daring to announce it by building a dome that would some day carry a cross.
The last thing we needed during the recent tragedy in which two Copts lost their lives and scores were injured was that the governor of Giza would now—and only now—advise us to apply for a licence to build a church. It marked an insensitive mockery of our intellects to attempt to make out that this was a thoroughly attainable goal that was ours for the asking; the problem was we preferred to violate the law.
Again the question begs an answer: why do Copts alone constantly violate the law? Why don’t Muslims ever build a mosque without licence?