The victims of COVID-19 in Egypt

Sent On: 
Mon, 2020-04-06
Newsletter Number: 

Egypt’s Ministry of Health stated that the number of COVID-19 cases passed the 1000. Officials fear these numbers can increase dramatically to 2,500 cases within only a few days. 296 have recovered and 78 have died. If Egypt manages to avoid the curve from steepening, then Egypt could possibly move into a period of reduced infection rates. Anyhow, these numbers are tiny in comparison to a population of well over 100 million. But the price Egypt is paying is huge.


Officials are frantically working to increase hospital capacity. To this end several hotels and schools are being equipped to function as emergency hospitals. The government pledged one billion Egyptian pounds to Egypt’s health sector.


But the crisis does not affect only the health sector. Millions of Egyptians and migrant workers from Africa and Asia have lost their jobs. These are people working in cleaning, domestic work, day-workers, sales clerks, waiters, kitchen staff, baggage handlers and many others. This spells catastrophe for millions of families since social services for these people are mostly lacking. There are large numbers of other poor such as elderly who have been working in the lower income brackets whose children are not capable to take care of them.


Father Johannes [Yūʾānnis], Coptic Orthodox priest of al-Qufada near Maghagha, explains that the Ikhwāt al-Rab program of the church for the poor has come to a halt. The name of this organization means in translation “Brothers of the Lord,” which is in line with what Jesus said “whatsoever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40 NIV). They were providing food packages, medical and other help. “The poor may now die from the lack of support they receive,” the priest laments. 


The church depends on voluntary contributions to this program and these used to come in through collections in churches but with the end of church services these collections have stopped.


The end of collections in churches also spells other difficulties. The running costs have remained the same (salaries of the priests and staff) while the income has largely stopped in Egypt since this is a cash-based economy. People were used to making their offerings in cash but this is no longer done. There is no tradition here to pay one’s tithes through bank transfers, neither do Egypt’s banks facilitate easy periodical transfers.


St. John the Baptist Church during the last liturgy


The English-speaking congregation of the Anglican St. John the Baptist Church is in a particular difficult situation since the congregation is small with around 70 regular attendees of whom perhaps 60% are lower-income members, mostly African and Asian workers, who themselves are struggling. The church has so far identified four members who have lost income and have no other sources of income.


St. John the Baptist Church also depends to a large extent on the rent from other churches that are renting its premises but these churches too loose collection income and at a certain moment will find it challenging to continue paying their rent.


The church has switched to streaming church services online but the number of people viewing is shockingly small, around 12 out of a congregation of around 70 regular church attendees. Many members say they cannot view these services online since their internet connections are too weak if, at all they are connected to the internet. Anglican Bishop Mouneer [Munīr] has given a video message to the struggling members of his church but many members in church cannot view this because the internet in their area does not support this.


The consequences of the government measures, not only in Egypt, but worldwide, are far-reaching for the poor and institutions as churches and mosques that were providing support to the poor.


The Ministry of Labour announced that casual workers will receive a one-off payment of 500 EgP. Already 1.2 million workers have applied. This will certainly not be sufficient.


Yesterday Western churches celebrated Palm Sunday. The Coptic Orthodox Church and many other churches in Egypt such as the Anglicans celebrate this one week later. It never happened before in Christian history that churches worldwide were not able to celebrate Palm Sunday and attend church during Lent. The crisis is truly far-reaching.


Egypt is not alone in the manifold difficulties it is facing. Certainly, governments will reflect on the coronavirus crisis once this is over. This will, beyond any doubt, result in drastic policy changes and thus we can state with certainty that the world after the crisis will not be the same as the world before the crisis.



Cairo, April 6, 2020


Cornelis Hulsman, Editor-in-Chief Arab-West Report


Cornelis Hulsman is also a member of St. John the Baptist Church and is since 2015 a member of the Parish Council.