Monday, May 6, 2019

Egypt: Another Coptic Church Forced to Close After Easter Prayers Anger Islamic Hardliners

Plight of Egypt's Coptic Christians Continues to Worsen
International Christian Concern (ICC), a Christian human rights organization, is reporting that on April 30, 2019, a "reconciliation meeting" was held in the Upper Egypt village of Nagib after threats of a potential Muslim mob attack led security officials to close the village’s only church. This situation escalated after it became known that the church did not have the necessary government permits to practice religious rites. 

Egypt has no grantees of Freedom of Religion, and all non-Muslim religious groups must register with the government and obtain special permits in order to meet or practise religious rites. These permits are difficult to get, and can be revoked at any time without notice or reason. Egypt’s 2016 Church Construction Law contains language which allows church legalization permits to be indefinitely delayed. Reconciliation meetings are often used to further restrict the rights of Christians to practice their faith.

Church leaders were not permitted to attend the reconciliation session in Nagib. Despite promises given before the session that the church would be reopened and permits issued, it was instead agreed that the church building would remain closed until the permits are issued at an unknown date.

“Many years ago we were praying in our houses with the priest because there was not an [existing] church,” a local Christian told Watani. “Now there are more than 400 Coptic persons in our village and the number of us increases day by day… During the last feast days (Orthodox Easter) many Copts prayed and the police had secured the building, but then the police asked Bishop Georgius to close the church because some Muslims in the village disagreed.” 

"This is a very hard situation. You can see kids praying in tears because of their feelings of fear … that is very painful for us as Christians personally. I don’t trust in the government promises, but we have to continue praying for [a] reopening [of] the church,” added another local Christian, who wished to remain anonymous.

Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “Once again, Egyptian Christians have been denied the right to practice their faith because Islamic hardliners do not want a Christian presence in the village. The situation calls into question whether local police were adhering to the rule of law, or to the rule of the mob. By closing the church and giving in to their demands, Egyptian security officials are putting local Christians at risk of future mob violence.”

As is the situation in most Muslim-majority countries, is is difficult to obtain accurate demographic information on non-Muslim religious groups due to legal discrimination and political manipulation of census data. However, it is estimated that of Egypt's population of nearly 95 million, approximately 15% are Christian (mostly Coptic).  

Sources: 1) Press Release from International Christian Concern dated May 3, 2019.  2) Information from the Egypt entry of Pray for the World, a resource from Operation World.  3) Additional demographic information from the Wikipedia entry for Egypt.

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