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Egypt: Government legalizes 900 churches in three years

While this gives the impression that progress is being made, there is far more that needs to be done for Christians in Egypt to enjoy full religious freedom. There are thousands of applications for permits to build churches that have not yet been approved. Christians encounter opposition from government officials as well as local non-Christians. The U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom (USCIRF), in its 2018 Annual Report, notes that “as of early 2018, only 53 out of the 5,540 churches that applied had received approvals for renovation, construction, or registration under the 2016 Church Construction Law.”

On top of that, the report continues: “Despite positive developments, the number of blasphemy cases filed against individuals increased in 2017 from 2016. In addition, human rights groups reported more than 120 sectarian attacks, including mob attacks against Christians and churches, and the lack of effective prosecution of perpetrators remained a serious concern.”

The USCIRF report also placed Egypt among its Tier 2 violators of religious freedom for “engaging in or tolerating religious freedom violations that meet at least one of the elements of the ‘systematic, ongoing, egregious’ standard for designation as a ‘country of particular concern,’ or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).”

There are around 300,000 Greek Orthodox Christians in Egypt; like our Coptic Christian brothers and sisters, they suffer sporadic persecution, discrimination, and harassment, as well as official obstacles to the building of churches.We remain in prayer for all the Christians in Egypt as their difficulties continue.

“Egyptian govt legalizes 900 churches in three years,” by Arnaud Bevilacqua, La Croix International, April 15, 2019:

President Abdel Fatteh al Sissi’s Egyptian government legalized more than 100 Christian churches – 111 to be precise – in March this year.

This makes a total of 984 centers of Christian worship centers that have been legalized, restored or built over the last three years. Law of August 2016

A new law on worship dating from August 2016 provides the framework for the process of legalizing and authorizing the building of new churches.

Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church gave its backing to the new law following months of tension with the al Sissi government. The new law replaced 1934 legislation that made the construction of new churches subject to ten conditions.

According to the old rules, building a church – in contrast to a mosque – required compliance with numerous conditions relating to the distance from schools, canals, government buildings, railways and residential zones.

Moreover, even when authorization to build was obtained, a project often remained in suspense if it failed obtain the consent of local communities.

In many cases, the rigid application of the rules prevented the building of churches in cities and villages inhabited by Christians, particularly in rural areas in Upper Egypt.

It also led to the spontaneous establishment of places of worship without the necessary authorizations. Discrimination continues

As a result, Christians were regularly suspected of building churches without permits. The Coptic Orthodox Church has long hoped that a new law would put an end to these conflict situations.

Islamist groups often made use of these situations to attack Christians with greater or lesser virulence and sometimes carry out their threats.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian Initiative for Individual Rights, a local human rights organization, published a report in November 2018 that strongly criticized the 2016 law governing the building of churches.

The report concluded that 15 Christian worship centers had experienced incidents and nine of these had been definitively closed between September 2017 and October 2018….

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