Egypt gives legal status to 70 more churches, but threats to Christian houses of worship remain

May 25, 2020

Persecution of Christians in Egypt: while the granting of legal status to 70 more churches 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 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.

“Egypt gives legal status to 70 more churches, but threats to Christian houses of worship remain,” by Anugrah Kumar, Christian Post, May 24, 2020:

As a government committee headed by Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly gave legal status to 70 churches this week, the number of Christian houses of worship that have been legalized in the country came to 1,638. However, the threat to churches in this Muslim-majority country remains.

Formed in January 2017, the Committee for the Legalization of Unlicensed Churches comprises the ministers of justice, parliamentary affairs, and local development and housing, as well as representatives of local authorities and Christian communities, according to Egypt Independent.

Since 2017, the committee has legalized 1,638 churches.

However, as recently as Wednesday, local authorities in the Koum Al-Farag area of Al-Behera governorate demolished a church building after sectarian protests, the U.K.-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported.

The church had been holding worship services in its one-story building for 15 years until local Muslims constructed a mosque next to it a few years ago. As per the country’s common law, churches cannot be formally recognized or allowed to display Christian symbols if a mosque is built next to them.

Since the church grew, it went on to add two more floors to the building, which led to sectarian tension in the area. As a result, local authorities demolished both the church building and the mosque next to it, CSW said, adding that 14 Christians, including the priest and four female members, were arrested for trying to stop the authorities from demolishing the building….

Last year, the U.S.-based persecution watchdog group International Christian Concern reported the legalization of 127 congregations.

However, critics of the committee, including ICC, have argued that it’s moving too slowly in its granting of approval for the church buildings still on the list awaiting legalization.

“The 2016 law (based on which the committee was created) was supposed to make it easier for new churches to go through the legalization process,” said ICC at the time. “However, President [Abdel Fattah] Sisi’s government has a worse record than his predecessors when it comes to approving new church buildings.”

According to the Christian persecution watchdog group Open Doors USA, Egypt holds the rank of the 16th worst persecutor of Christians in the world….