Getting Things Done

Sent On: 
Mon, 2018-01-22
Newsletter Number: 


On January 16, I visited the Presbyterian Church in Maadi, Cairo, with Italian intern Niccolo Costantini. Pastor Naseem Fadl (Nasīm Faḍl) was leading the activities to demolish the wooden church that was first established in 2005, and later expanded - also in wood. The intentions are to realize the old plans to build a large new church on the same location. Spokesperson Usāmah Dīmyan showed intern Corin Kazanjian the plans for a grand church on the same location back  in 2008, and explained the history prior to the building of the wooden church (For Kazanjian’s report, please click here). Pastor Faḍl showed us the same images, and thus, they seem to be building based on those earlier developed plans.


Since the church obtained their land in the early 1950s, they struggled with squatters on their land and a permit for church building. As a consequence they have been worshipping for years in other churches.  In 2005, they decided to simply create an established fact by building a church in only a few days in 2008, before any authority would be able to stop them and nag them about permits and procedures. Hence this building was made out of wood. On the entrance they wrote that the church was established in 1953, which gave credit to the existence of the building in the area, making people believe that the church building was older than it really is.

The development of the church received a blow when their pastor, Ashraf, suddenly left Egypt after the 2011 Revolution for the United States. Only after his arrival in the US did he inform his congregation. He argued that this was for his studies, saying that he would come back after achieving his PhD in Theology. Many in the church felt that this was a betrayal. Mary Lai, a Chinese Christian businesswoman who knew several members of the congregation, then told me that she doesn’t believe he will ever come back. So it has gone with many Egyptian Christians who say that they want to leave Egypt for a limited period, but once they leave, practically no one comes back. Members in the congregation then shared the expectations of Mary Lai, and indeed pastor Ashraf has not returned to Egypt yet, and is not expected to return to Egypt any time soon.  


A large structure of stone and concrete was in those days out of the question. The church had no building permit, and thus the building process depended on avoiding protests in the neighborhood. A one-floor wooden structure was in that context acceptable, but not a larger building.  


Nasīm Faḍl has been a pastor of this church for four years now, and has worked on good relations with his neighbors. Jayson Casper wrote in June 2017 about the church organizing, an iftar, the meal to break the fasting, during Ramadan for neighbors (For Casper’s article click here). The Presbyterian Church in Maadi is not the only church doing so. Many others do this as many churches realize that good neighborly relations are essential for them to build and carry out activities in peace.


Maadi is generally a well-to-do quarter of Cairo where many foreigners live, which helps the church in being accepted in the area.


Pastor Faḍl and his congregation now feel that the political climate is now sufficiently good to build the desired large church. Not that it is needed for the current size of the congregation, but as the population of Egypt is growing, thus the Christian community expected to grow as well. “We are building for the future” the pastor said. Many Christians believe that when you get an oppo

rtunity to build; then build, since building in the past was often difficult, and the future might bring a government that makes church building difficult again.


The congregation has already collected 5 million EgP for this building project, while 7 million EgP are needed and for further completion, and maybe even more. However the pastor is sure that God will provide. The building project is expected to take at least two years. The Presbyterians are, for the time, worshipping in the Catholic Holy Family Church in Maadi.


When we visited the church, the pastor was not only removing the old buildings, but also the trees alongside the fence. One particularly large tree stood at the entrance of the compound. It must have been there before the 1950s when the land was obtained for church building. We said that this tree, at the far end of the compound, was such a beautiful view, and alsothe church structure will not reach that far. I told the pastor that I had visited Lisbon last year, and saw them constructing a new building in the old city while maintaining the spot of a large tree. Pastor Nasīm Faḍl agreed that the tree should remain and even went along with our arguments, saying that trees provide oxygen and that they need protection. Yet, he also said that he would “try his best” not to have the tree removed. This gave us the feeling that his good words about the tree were only intended to please us. 

On January 18, the tree was removed. Three security officers were watching. This would be impossible in, for example, the Netherlands, where one needs a permit to remove a large tree. Why was the pastor going along with us in saying the tree had to remain, and yet two days later cut it down? The general view is that it is rude to oppose people and tell them you disagree or have different plans. Thus, you go along with their talks, and then carry things out as you already had them in your mind. This makes it very hard to know when people agree or disagree with you, you have to infer this from the way things are said. This is not a cultural trait in Egypt only, it is also found in other Arab countries as well. Niccolo Costantini said that a similar culture can be found to a lesser extend in Italy. Promises and oral agreements are made in order to please the listener. This makes it, at times, hard to know which words will be respected and which not. Meanwhile, who cares? Words are only words, one Egyptian said. Important for many people is that you get the things done that you want to get done.


Cairo, January 22, 2018

Cornelis Hulsman,

Editor-in-chief Arab-West Report