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68. Post-Revolutionary Construction in Egypt

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Article title: 
68. Post-Revolutionary Construction in Egypt
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Year: 
2012
Week: 
12
Article number: 
68
Date of source: 
March 22, 2012
Author: 
Cornelis Hulsman and Jenna Ferrecchia
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Article summary: 

In post-Revolutionary Egypt the government is in a weakened state with little or no capacity to enforce laws. Many citizens have chosen to take advantage of this power vacuum to construct churches, mosques, and other buildings in their villages. This article highlights construction in several villages in Upper Egypt--some of which was done with a permit and some without.

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In many ways the various outcomes of the January 25th Revolution have caused the Egyptian people to fear for their well-being. The weakened state of the government has created a vacuum in security and oversight leaving communities all over Egypt to function in volatile circumstances and in this new and unfamiliar environment where recourse is virtually non-existent, brazen actions abound. Boldness is manifest in violent crimes, for example, but also in other seemingly harmless deeds, such as building a church, a mosque, or any other structure without a permit. However, the issuance of a permit—a mere piece of paper, in many villages in Upper Egypt has had the power to yield a devastating wake of tensions between Christians and Muslims and in this post-Revolutionary order, many have chosen to circumvent the law. Even where permits have been issued, the weakened state of the government has meant little or no further enforcement of the laws on which the original permits were based. Churches in particular are being constructed and renovated with no physical evidence of authorization by the government, causing resistance by Muslim villagers, often by violent means.

In many ways the various outcomes of the January 25th Revolution have caused the Egyptian people to fear for their well-being. The weakened state of the government has created a vacuum in security and oversight leaving communities all over Egypt to function in volatile circumstances and in this new and unfamiliar environment where recourse is virtually non-existent, brazen actions abound. Boldness is manifest in violent crimes, for example, but also in other seemingly harmless deeds, such as building a church, a mosque, or any other structure without a permit. However, the issuance of a permit—a mere piece of paper, in many villages in Upper Egypt has had the power to yield a devastating wake of tensions between Christians and Muslims and in this post-Revolutionary order, many have chosen to circumvent the law. Even where permits have been issued, the weakened state of the government has meant little or no further enforcement of the laws on which the original permits were based. Churches in particular are being constructed and renovated with no physical evidence of authorization by the government, causing resistance by Muslim villagers, often by violent means.

Arab West Report has over the years generated a vast archive of photographs from various villages throughout Upper Egypt. In the current circumstances, these photos have provided clear and invaluable evidence of the liberties the Coptic Church and other citizens have taken, especially in the past year since the Revolution, in constructing and enlarging a number of churches and buildings in their villages. The following images were taken in five different villages in Upper Egypt where churches have been expanded, renovated, or constructed at the expense of arable land, the villages’ character, and security.

The evidence provided here also goes further in disproving the arguments of Professor Hans Jansen, who asserted in 2011 that modern churches have mainly been built in the post-colonial era. AWR has commented on his statements, disputing the validity of his claims with evidence to the contrary from sources within Egypt, both photographic and verbal. This document bolsters AWR’s refutation of his statements.

In January 2012, AWR Editor-in-Chief, Cornelis Hulsman visited the village of al-Bayādiyah in the governorate of Mallawī, where a large church was being erected. When questioned about the existence of permits for this construction, workers readily admitted that there were none and yet the image below clearly depicts workers on scaffolding at the time of Cornelis’ visit. Because the Christian population significantly outnumbers the Muslim population in this particular village, Christians are not met with a formidable resistance from their Muslim neighbors. In order to accommodate the Christian parishioners, worship has begun here amid construction.

Bayādiyah’s fields are also being sacrificed to accommodate new structures. This is unfortunate as arable land is a commodity in decline in Egypt. In the absence of government control, decisions are being made at the expense of Egypt’s future.

The village of Ashmūniyīn, about 20 kilometers west of Bayādiyah, is the scene of similar offenses by Christians. A once-modest church which sat atop a clay hill in the middle of the village has been expanded to envelop the entire hill within its walls. Images from 2002 depict the church as it stood prior to expansion. This same church was photographed in 2012 as evidence of the changes made absent any overarching authority. The image below also shows a tank and police truck parked at the bottom of the hill as a result of the ongoing tensions in the area. It is uncertain whether the Church obtained a permit prior to construction. When asked about a permit for the structure, Christians who were exhibiting the church directed Cornelis to the priest who was unavailable during the brief period of his visit.

Because time is of the essence in recent months, the quality of the structure has also suffered. An image below illustrates the result of hastened construction during this undefined period of lawlessness.

Construction of the Brethren Church and other buildings not affiliated with the church in Dayr Abū Hinnis has also proven detrimental to the agricultural sector, as they, too, were built on arable land. Such structures not only threaten Egypt’s economic sustainability, but also its rural environment—a charming aspect its character. The image below shows the Brethren Church as it stands in January 2012 surrounded by greenery.


Dayr al-Maymūn, another village located north of the city of Beni Suef, has been the subject of church expansion and renovation at the expense of the village. Unlike the other churches featured in this article, construction had actually begun on this particular church in 2010 and due to restrictions was not able to continue until after the Revolution. At this time, the Coptic Church again took advantage of the weakened authorities and resumed construction. Not only was the newer church expanded to include a courtyard where traditional village homes previously stood, but a fourth century church was also made to look contemporary by cementing over the bricks. The images below depict the significant changes that were made in the year following the Revolution.

The village of Qufādah, also in Upper Egypt, has suffered from the wave of new construction in the power vacuum. Again, buildings are being constructed on rural land with little thought given to the residual effects this will have on the village.

Building has occurred all over and sometimes even though there is a permit, the people know that any further regulatory impediments that may arisen in the past during construction, for the time being, will not be enforced.

Most recently Hulsman visited Bishop Kyrillos, a Catholic Bishop in Asyut on March 19, 2012. Again, there was clear evidence of the post-Revolutionary power vacuum, where a pre-existing church was being enlarged in the village of Nasirīyyah, near Asyut. They have a permit for this construction, but the exigencies of the current situation have forced quick decisions to build. Bishop explained: “We are building now because we do not know what we are able to do in the future.” Muslims protested in an attempt to halt this renovation, specifically the enlargement of a door, but the church was able to resolve the by showing their permit.

In Buwayt, a village near Asyut, which is home to some 3,000 Coptic Catholics and boasts around 60 nuns, another church is being enlarged this year. Bishop Kyrillos accompanied Hulsman to this location as well where the Coptic Catholic church is being expanded to more than double its original size. The church, which is the only Coptic Catholic church in Buwayt, will ultimately stand at 530m2—an increase of 300m2. This particular parish had obtained a permit for their construction as well in October of 2010, two and a half years after they had applied. This permit not only authorizes renovation of the church, but also a permit to build a house for priests and nuns near the church.

Bishop Kyrillos explained that permits have been given both before and after the Revolution, with permits issued to Buwayt and Nasirīyyah before the Revolution and to Balayzā since the fall of President Mubārak.

Though construction on the church has progressed in the last year, a predicament has arisen in Buwayt that is all too familiar for many Christian communities in Upper Egypt and elsewhere. A mosque, which by no coincidence was built in the last year, now stands adjacent to the Catholic church under construction, its minaret towering over the church. Muslims, whose population in the village is nominal at best, acquired this land for a presumably considerable sum from the son of a Coptic Orthodox priest from the area. This transaction reveals the true lack of sensitivity in the village of Orthodox Copts toward Catholic Copts. Father Īllīyā, a Coptic Catholic Priest, affirmed that this land was sold not because there are tensions between Catholics and the Orthodox, but simply indifference on the part of the Orthodox in this village. Conflicts in many, if not all cases, are not merely black and white in nature. In disputes there are many different personalities at play that determine the outcomes.

Each example provided here illustrates the current status of Egypt’s villages and a model for Egypt as a whole. Evidence of churches and other buildings that are being constructed hastily, regardless of the legal status, demonstrates the liberties that are being taken in the absence of any legitimate overarching authority. The consequences of these actions have ranged from peaceful protests to violence to villages being stripped of their historical and natural attributes. Little, if any thought is being given to the repercussions that may result from such construction under post-Revolutionary conditions. AWR will continue to monitor and document changes in these villages in order to provide a comprehensive image of Egypt in the post-Revolutionary era.

 

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