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Egypt: ‘My family and I stopped going to church because they would frequently get attacked’

Our brothers and sisters of the Coptic Orthodox Christian Church in Egypt are persecuted on a nearly daily basis for their faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Not only the Copts, but also our 300,000 Greek Orthodox brothers and sisters in Egypt suffer sporadic persecution, discrimination, and harassment, and as we see so often, frequently Egyptian officials do little or nothing to alleviate their plight.

For previous ChristianPersecution.com coverage of the persecution of Christians in Egypt, see here.

“Will Egypt’s Sectarian Tensions and Discrimination Against Christians Come to an End?,” by Zeina Hanafy, Egyptian Streets, October 24, 2022:

“My family and I stopped going to church because they would frequently get attacked, and the one we would normally go to [Saint Mary Church in Ard El Golf] was just recently threatened,” Kenzy Helmy* tells Egyptian Streets.

Helmy, a 20-year-old university student in the UK, opened up to Egyptian Streets about the public discrimination Christians in Egypt face on a regular basis. It is a feeling shared by many, that prejudicial actions are somehow protected in Egyptian society. Regardless of the laws implemented, Christians still feel the sectarian tensions from those around them, whether at work, schools, or in sports, and particularly during religious holidays – these tensions have become an unfortunate cultural regularity.

DISCRIMINATION, FROM PAST TO PRESENT

Egypt is a country with a population of 104 million people, between 10 percent and 15 percent of which is made up of Christians – with the majority being Coptic Orthodox, and minorities of around one million Evangelical Christians and around 250,000 Catholics.

The Christian community has maintained a rich and deep-rooted 2,000-year history in Egypt since St. Mark the Evangelist arrived around 48 A.D. Despite Christians’ long and significant contributions to Egyptian culture and society, the community has been facing largely unprecedented levels of persecution and has been the target of violence and discrimination for decades.

Christians in Egypt were not always subject to discrimination – in fact, Egypt’s religious discriminatory culture against Christians is relatively recent. Copts were prominently represented in the parliament and in Egyptian political life, particularly during the Liberal Age of the 1920s.

However, towards the beginning of the 1970s, violence, and sectarianism arose during the rule of President Anwar Al-Sadat, and were especially pronounced following the revolution of 2011.

During the period between 2011 and 2013, sectarian tensions grew particularly severe, as churches became target points for attacks with little intervention from security forces.

In 2020, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) even recommended that Egypt be added to the State Department’s Special Watch List (SWL) – a list of countries whose governments tolerate and participate in severe religious freedom violations.

Unfortunately, this discrimination against Egypt’s Christians is also perpetrated in law and in practice.

Christians in Egypt suffer from multifarious types of discrimination including legal biases, biased implementation of laws, and social discriminatory acts.

A clear legal form of discrimination against Christians is, in cases of personal matters, if sharia law is implemented for a Muslim who wants to convert to Christianity; it is a serious dilemma as the state does not recognize conversions from Islam.

A highly publicized case of this particular issue occurred in 2007, when Mohamed Hegazy, a Muslim, wanted to convert to Christianity. The Cairo Administrative Court refused to rule on the case of Hegazy, who demanded his new religion be recognized by the Egyptian government. Hegazy spent two and a half years in unlawful detention before he issued a sudden public statement announcing his conversion back to Islam.

This prompted both human rights activists in Egypt and his attorney Karam Ghobrial to believe that Hegazy may have been forced to make the public act of conversion to get out of detention.

CHURCH DEMOLITIONS: A PREVALENT ISSUE

While Egyptian law No. 80 of 2016 bans the closure of any church, security forces have repeatedly closed down and demolished churches in violation of this law. Article 235 of the Egyptian Constitution of 2014, states that “the House of Representatives shall issue a law to regulate constructing and renovating churches, in a manner that guarantees the freedom to practice religious rituals for Christians”. Yet, in 2017, there were several instances in which churches were closed – on the basis that they were illegally constructed.

While there are illegally built mosques in Egypt, they do not receive the same treatment. Perhaps the most well-known case of a demolished mosque was in 2019, when the state chose to demolish the mosque of Sufi Imam Abu al-Ikhlas al-Zarqani to complete the Mahmudiyah corridor project.

When the state was accused of demolishing mosques in 2020, the state authorities responded by saying: “We demolished 30 mosques, but we rebuilt them for the national interest and development — not because of what they had accused us of.”

Shukri al-Gundi, a member of the parliament, warned against these accusations saying that “Egypt would never remove mosques”.

The most recent case of a church demolition by security forces was in May of 2020, specifically a church in the Kom al-Farag village in Al-Beheira. The church was used for almost 15 years and needed expansion. Consequently, Muslims in the village protested the expansion, and contrary to law No. 80 of 2016, security forces did not wait for a court decision and proceeded with the demolition of the church….

“Christians should not fear going to church in their own country in case of a sudden bombing, or hide in basements in fear of attacks, like some of my friends have, or walk on the streets overhearing snide comments about their faith,” says Nasr.

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