The Egyptian Ministry of Housing has issued a decree allowing Christians to perform their prayers in unlicensed churches until they obtain permits as official houses of worship.
NOTE: The purpose of this site is to draw attention to news items that highlight threats against Muslims in America or evidence of positive interactions between Muslims and Christians worldwide. Sometimes, however, it is important to point to places in the world where that interaction is not positive to point out why it is crucial that Muslims and Christians work together to build positive relations for the good of all. This is one of those articles that underscores why interfaith work is so important.
ASEM, Egypt — The Christian and Muslim villagers grew up together, played on the same soccer fields as kids, and attended the same schools in this riverside hamlet. But that didn’t matter on a recent day: An argument between boys sparked clashes between neighbors, with Muslims torching shops owned by Christians.
Gamal Sobhy, a Christian farmer, ran into the melee to protect his two sons. Someone in the crowd hit him with a stick. Then others jumped in, striking him repeatedly until he fell to the ground with blood seeping from his head.
“The Muslims were yelling, ‘Kill him, kill him,’ ” Sobhy said a few days after he was released from the hospital.
Five years ago, many among Egypt’s minority Orthodox Coptic Christians thought the discrimination they had long faced from Muslims would begin to disappear when President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in Egypt’s revolution and the military seized control of the country.
But in the years since then, as an Islamist government was elected and overthrown, that sense of hope evaporated.
Attacks against Christians have intensified as mistrust between Christians and Muslims deepens. Today, community leaders and human rights activists say the smallest of matters are setting off violence, often pitting neighbor against neighbor.
At a time when President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi’s government is jailing its opponents and struggling to revive a sinking economy, the violence adds a new layer of populist frustration: Christians strongly supported Sissi’s rise, expecting him to protect them after the former army general led a coup that toppled the Islamists.
“As Egyptian citizens, Christians don’t feel they are equal to their Muslim counterparts,” said Bishop Makarios, the head of the Coptic diocese in Minya province, where Asem is situated. “They feel oppressed, and marginalized by the law.”
Christians across the region have endured horrific assaults in the turbulent aftermath of the Arab Spring uprisings.
A Muslim MP in Egypt has submitted the first request to build a new church under a controversial law passed last week by the country’s parliament.
The law aimed at liberalising church building and renovation was hotly debated and received Church support only at the last minute amid fears it conceded too much to local opposition forces.
However, the independent MP for the Assiut region in Upper Egypt, El-Badri Ahmed Deif, told reporters on Saturday: “I wanted it recorded in history that a Muslim was the first to submit a request for building a church in Egypt after the passing of the new landmark law.”
According to AhramOnline, he said: “This request aims to build new bridges of confidence between Muslims and Christians and foster national unity in Egypt.”
He said he wanted to build the church in the village of Salam, which translates as ‘Peace’, the birthplace of the late Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III.
“This great, moderate man was the pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church for 41 years, during which he lived in the tumultuous eras of late presidents Gamal Abdel-Nasser and Anwar El-Sadat, as well as former president Hosni Mubarak,” Deif said.
“In spite of his central religious status over these four decades, he never used his influence to build a church in his home village.”
There are more than 5,000 Christians living in the village of Salam and Deif said they need a church.
“I want to build a church in Salam to help these Copts perform their religious duties as well as to immortalise the name of Pope Shenouda, the son of this village,” he said.
The request will be submitted to the governor of the province. The new law says local governors must respond within four months and must provide clear explanations if they reject such requests.
Coptic MP Margaret Azer, deputy chairwoman of parliament’s human rights committee, said: “Deif’s request is a very good initiative from a Muslim MP who belongs to a governorate that includes a large number of Coptic Christians.”
Dr. David Curry is the CEO of Open Doors USA, an organization which advocates for persecuted Christians around the world. In part one of CP’s interview with Curry, he discusses ISIS’ surge in Iraq and its implications for Iraq’s remaining 500,000 Christians and its effects on neighboring Syria. This is part two of the interview where he shares with The Christian Post why 2014 has generally been a more peaceful year for the Egyptian church than 2013. Curry had recently returned from Egypt.
Bishop-General Macarius (R), a Coptic Orthodox leader, walks around the burnt Evangelical Church in Minya governorate, south of Cairo, August 26, 2013.
CP: What’s the situation like in 2014 for Egyptian Christians?
Curry: The situation has improved for Christians in Egypt.
CP: What do you attribute that to?
Curry: It’s been due to the willingness of the new government to protect Christian areas to allow for free expression of faith for Christians, for people to attend church in safety, to be able to associate themselves with their faith. I am encouraged; this is not a political statement for the government because I’m not an expert in political situations, but I can tell you that this is an improvement for Egyptian Christians; it’s stability that they welcome.
AZIYAH, Egypt (AP) — Hymns echoing from the new church in this village in Egypt’s southern heartland could be heard well after sundown, a reminder of the jubilant mood as Aziyah’s Christian residents voted on a new constitution.
Outside in the dusty streets, volunteers hurriedly arranged for buses to transport voters to polling stations before they closed on Wednesday night. In past elections, Islamists used fear or intimidation to stop Christians from voting against them.
This time around, Aziyah’s Christians faced no obstacles on their way to the ballot box.
“I cast my ballot as I pleased. I am not afraid of anybody,” said Heba Girgis, a Christian resident of the nearby village of Sanabu, who said she was harassed and prevented from casting a vote against the 2012 Islamist-backed constitution. “Last time I wanted to say no. I waited in line for two hours before the judge closed the station.”
“This time we said ‘yes’ and our opinion matters,” Girgis added as she walked home with a friend after casting her vote. “This is for our children, for all those who died and suffered. Our word now carries weight.”
The country is in the midst of a swell of nationalism that began during the revolution in 2011 and intensified when citizens took to the streets in June of this year to call for the removal of President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egyptian flags adorn houses and buildings throughout the capital, and everything — from sandbags buttressing military blockades to pillars along the Nile Corniche — has been painted in the national colors of black, white and red.
These sentiments have served to unite Christians and Muslims. In recent decades, Christians had become increasingly cloistered — a trend of “closed communalism” that Gamal Soltan, professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, said has been building since the 1970s. That began to change during the revolution in 2011.
The 18 days of demonstrations during the first Tahrir Square uprising ushered in poignant displays of interreligious unity, with protesters sharing prayers and holding aloft Bibles and Qurans. Political writer and commentator Bassem Sabry called this the “grass-roots manifestation” of nationalistic coexistence.
The group said it had documented attacks on 42 churches and dozens of Christian institutions, schools and homes, as well as Christian-owned businesses across the country.
It said at least four people were reported killed in sectarian violence, three Christians and one Muslim.
Attacks on Egypt’s Christian minority have escalated since the July 3 ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
The attacks dramatically increased since the August 14 dispersal of two pro-Morsi protest camps in the capital.
Human Rights Watch said authorities had failed to protect Christians from attacks, and that Islamists, including Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, had failed to properly condemn the violence and prevent future attacks.
“For weeks, everyone could see these attacks were coming, with Muslim Brotherhood members accusing Coptic Christians of a role in Mohamed Morsi’s ouster, but the authorities did little or nothing to prevent them,” said Joe Stork, the group’s acting Middle East director.
“In the vast majority of the 42 cases Human Rights Watch documented, neither the police nor the military were present at the start or during the attack,” the group said.
It said a priest in Minya province told the group he had called police and emergency services multiple times as mobs attacked his church, but no one came.