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Hope for Religious Equality in Egypt as President Decrees Formation of Church Bodies

Christians in Egypt decry violence at a past protest

The future is promising for the Catholic Church and the Evangelical community in Egypt following a decree by the country’s President that permits formation of bodies that are aimed to champion for Religious equality.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi decreed to form Boards of Directors of endowment bodies for the Catholic Church and the Evangelical Community on Monday, March 1.

This follows a bill that Egypt’s parliament passed last August, calling for the establishment of endowment bodies for churches, with the aim to achieve equality among the Egyptian Christian groups.

Egypt Today has reported that according to the law, each of the Catholic and Evangelical churches will be allowed to have its own endowment authority, which will be enjoying a legal status and will be headquartered in Cairo.

The decree coincides with a recently launched report that has unearthed incidences of discrimination against minority Religious groups in the North-Eastern African country that has, for the past 150 years, worked on building and legalizing the status of hundreds of churches.

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Compiled by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (APPGFoRB), the report dubbed “Commentary on the Current State of International Freedom of Religion” details the situation of religious freedom in 30 countries on the globe, including countries in Africa where religious inequalities have been documented.

In Egypt, the report notes that restrictions on church building remain largely in place. From a population of 102 million, approximately 90 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim and approximately 10 percent is Christian.

“Four years after the issuance of Law 80 of 2016 on the construction of churches, the government has only conditionally legalized 1,638 churches that were operating without official permits, roughly 25 percent of church buildings that applied for legal status,” the report indicates in part.

Egypt’s Law 80 of 2016 is designed to govern the process for obtaining government approval to construct, renovate, or demolish churches and property associated with places of Christian worship.

Leaders of denominations are required to submit their requests to Provincial Governors, and Governors are to approve requests within four months or explain their rejections.

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The law stipulates that the size and needs of the local Christian community are to be taken into consideration during the review of requests.

The law has, however, been faulted for not improving procedures, but rather, continuing to further an unequal construction scheme.

The APPGFoRB report, which also highlighted the discrimination against Religious minority groups across the world during COVID-19 notes that most incidences of persecution in Egypt happens in areas where Islamist movements exert a strong influence.

“Persecution against Christians happens mostly at the community level, especially in Upper Egypt where Salafist movements exert a strong influence on the rural communities due to high levels of illiteracy and poverty,” the report notes.

The report highlights incidents of persecution of Christians including false accusations, community ostracism and mob violence in these communities.

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There is also abduction of Christian women “causing many to feel unsafe leaving the house alone.”

The report further highlights an incidence in which an Egyptian court acquitted three men who led a Muslim mob to strip, beat, spit on and humiliate a Christian grandmother whose son was falsely accused of having a romantic relationship with a Muslim woman.

“Although Egypt’s government speaks positively about Egypt's Christian community, the lack of serious law enforcement and the unwillingness of local authorities to protect Christians leave them vulnerable to all kinds of attacks, communal hostility and mob violence,” the report says.

As for January 2020, the government said that a total of 1,412 churches and Coptic buildings have been legalized nationwide.

In earlier reports, President Sisi whose administration has been working towards building and legalizing the status of hundreds of churches said the state was committed to achieving freedom of worship in the country.

“We have issued a law to build churches in Egypt after it had been a dream for 150 years, because the state is concerned with securing the right of worship for all its citizens,” Sisi was quoted as saying.

He added, “The state has to construct churches for its citizens, because they have the right to worship as everyone does and because it is the right of the citizen to worship as he pleases.”

In the new decree to establish endowment bodies for churches, a board of each church will consist of 12 members, half of them clergymen and the other half prominent figures from each community. Each board will be chaired by the head of its church.