Coptic Christians arrested in Egypt on August 22, 2018, were later sentenced to 15 days of additional jail time. The group was arrested because they were worshipping in a house without a permit, according to rights activists. Christian Headlines reports, “Police closed the church in Al-Zeneeqa village, in Esna, which has been holding worship services at the site for 18 years, according to Samaan. Five Muslims were also arrested, with another 10 arrested on August 24th as they prepared another demonstration against the church, according to U.S.-based Catholic publications The Tablet.”
This arrest comes after a new law was passed on September 28, 2016, in order to “regulate the construction of churches.” While churchgoers submit documentation for legalization, they must wait for approval to avoid detention for worshipping without the proper credentials. Over the past two years, some argue the application of the law has resulted in persecution of Christians.
The law is said to “empower provincial governors to approve church building and renovation permits,” instead of this approval being subject to security services as it was previously. However, this government involvement also leaves the decision up to individual politicians. The Tablet reports how this allows governors to deny permits based on security concerns due to mobs and protestors. Since Coptic churches are often the location for mob attacks, this may lead to discrimination against Christian gatherers and the inability for them to obtain permits for churches.
Many politicians and activists do not approve of the new law, as it is argued to be discriminatory against Christians. According to The Tablet, both Muslim and Christian legislators “have expressed their dismay with the law.” Kamal Zakher, Coptic intellectual and researcher, says “[the law] was born dead…It complicates the process of licensing and not facilitate it as the law imposes hard conditions.”
People of faith in Egypt now seem to be subject to the government’s endorsement and support, limiting religious freedom and the ability to worship openly.
This reliance on the government’s approval results in many worshippers awaiting the green light for their ability to gather. The Tablet reports that according to an August 26th editorial in Watani newspaper, “In 11 full months, the Cabinet committee issued approvals to legalize a mere 220 of the 3730 churches and service buildings…Today, 11 months after the committee began its work, no further approvals have been issued, meaning that 3510 applications still await decisions.”
People of faith in Egypt now seem to be subject to the government’s endorsement and support, limiting religious freedom and the ability to worship openly. Open Doors’ World Watch List ranks Egypt as a place of “very high persecution.” It is ranked 17 out of the 50 countries where it is most dangerous to follow Christ.