EGYPT – Christians hope new law will allow them to build churches
Despite being the Middle East’s largest Christian minority, Egypt’s Copts have struggled for a long time to obtain official permission to build churches. Egyptian authorities often refuse to give Christians permits to build churches on the grounds that this would disturb the peace with their Muslim neighbours.
Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher with the rights group Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, says current laws are biased against Christians.
“There is discrimination in handling Muslim and Christian rights in building houses of worship. The conditions for building churches are a hindrance. The official message is great, but on the ground, nothing is implemented,” he said.
In the village of Ismailiya a building the local Copts wanted to use for their church remains closed for lack of a permit. Christians are now hoping a new law regarding the building of houses of worship — both mosques and churches — will bring an end to discrimination against them. Coptic Pope Tawadros II has said he hopes the new law will streamline church construction and cut through the red tape.
Nadia Henry, a member of parliament for the liberal Free Egyptians Party, also expressed hope that the new law would reduce sectarian tensions: “Regulating church construction will bring down the number of sectarian clashes in Egypt.”
Copts, who make up some 10 percent of Egypt’s 90 million people, are going through one of the darkest times in recent history. Sectarian attacks surged during the three-decade rule of former president Mubarak and Copts fared little better under successive Egyptian rulers who came after him.
In recent years, dozens of Christians have been killed in sectarian attacks across the country. Last May, a Muslim mob stripped an elderly woman of her clothes and attacked her house in a southern village after rumour spread that her son was dating a Muslim woman. In the rural southern province of Minya, even speculation that Christians are planning to build a church can spark mob violence.
In a southern Egyptian village dozens of Coptic Christians, a priest and five deacons gathered for mass next to the charred remains of a wooden structure they once used as a chapel which was burnt down two months ago. A blackened wooden cross amid the ruins bore testament to a string of clashes in southern villages that has highlighted sectarian tensions in Egypt.
A member of the congregation said he felt oppressed every time he gathered to pray there and stated “My simplest right as an Egyptian should be to pray in a church, not the street.” He said, adding “I dream that we open a church where we can bring the women and children to pray, instead of the street.”
Despite Sisi’s call for a revolution, things are still far from perfect for Christians and other religious minorities in Egypt.
One Egyptian Christian from Cairo who recently spoke with Breitbart Jerusalem said Christians in the country still feel like second-class citizens and are just as intimidated today as they were under the leadership of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
“We can walk freely without fear of persecution, but the feeling is that when it comes to the freedom of religious worship we aren’t equal citizens,” Majdi said. “We feel compelled to apologize for being Coptic Christians and feel uncomfortable to ask to pray in a church.”