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Egypt: Nine Coptic Christians Arrested After Protesting for Permission to Rebuild Church

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 2020 Annual Report, notes that “In 2019, the Cabinet committee charged with implementing the registration of informal churches and church-related buildings under Law 80/2016 made some limited progress in approving applications—a process for which Coptic Orthodox and Protestant leaders alike have expressed their support, including Pope Tawadros II. The committee had approved only 627 applications by the end of 2018; in 2019, it cleared an additional 725—bringing the total to 1,412 approved applications, or just over 25 percent of 5,515 currently in process.”

This is, however, not as encouraging as it sounds, as “most of these approvals have been conditional, pending security, safety, and other forms of review; only around 200 church properties have received final approvals for registration. Furthermore, this progress has only taken place for preexisting, de facto churches, mainly for rural Christian communities that had no other access to local places of worship. The governing authorities have issued few to no permits for new churches in previously inhabited communities while shuttering around 25 churches since the passage of the law, including several in 2019. At its root, Law 80/2016 also avoids addressing the long-term, systematic disparity between religious communities. Muslim worshippers face no such registration restrictions, so even with the recent church approvals, there is approximately one mosque for every 820 Muslims and one church for every 2,430 Christians—roughly a 320 percent disparity.”

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.

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

“Nine Copts Arrested After Protesting for Permission to Rebuild Church,” International Christian Concern, March 2, 2022:

03/02/2022 Egypt (International Christian Concern) – Nine Coptic Christians were arrested in Ezbet Faragallah village after a peaceful demonstration requesting permission to rebuild their destroyed church. St. Joseph and Abu Sefein Church was destroyed in July 2016 after a fire broke out.

All activities relating to church buildings must be regulated by the Egyptian authorities. In July 2021, the church received permission to demolish the building. The congregation and leadership immediately requested a permit to rebuild when the demolish was complete, but to date has not received a response. The peaceful protest, which occurred in January 2022, resulted in the arrests of several Christians a few days later.

Those arrested were taken to the headquarters of the National Security Apparatus in Minya Governorate and later sent for interrogation at the Supreme State Security Prosecution on February 2 and 3, 2022, in connection with Case 65 of 2022. Egyptian authorities charged the Christians with participating in an assembly that endangers public peace, and committing a terrorist act with the aim of disturbing public security. Additionally, the accusation of “arranging a gathering that affects the public authority” was added to one of the nine.

Authorities decided to imprison the defendants for 15 days pending investigations, and then renewed the detention decision on February 12, 2022, without presenting them in person to hear their statements or in the presence of their lawyers.

The church was the only church in the village where religious services were held. Egypt’s delay in granting permission for rebuild violates the Church Building Law No. 60 of 2016 which stipulates a four-month decision period. As of October 2021, only 1,958 churches and buildings received legalization. Nearly six years after the law was introduced, more than 5,540 Christian buildings lack proper status….

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