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Egypt

The toppling of the Islamist president Mohammed Morsi on 3 July 2013 after a popular uprising raised hopes that the condition of Christians in Egypt might improve. In the short term, however, it was the trigger for a furious backlash against them by angry Islamists. At the height of the reprisals in mid-August, at least 16 Christians were killed and some 60 church buildings destroyed, as well as countless Christian homes and businesses. In the Islamist stronghold of Minya, Christian properties were marked for destruction with a black X.

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Mariam Ashraf Messeiha (8) was killed in a drive-by attack on a Christian wedding in 2013
Source: Morning Star News

Sporadic attacks have continued since. In October four Christians, including two children, were killed in Cairo in a drive-by shooting that targeted wedding guests. Many Christians have been kidnapped for ransom and others forced to pay protection money to Islamists in the form of jizya, the traditional Islamic tax on Christians and Jews.

But the churches continue to hope for better times ahead. A new constitution was approved in a referendum in January 2014; it replaces the Islamist-sponsored code that was pushed through by Morsi at the end of 2012 and strengthens rights and freedoms. It enshrines the equality of all citizens and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, sex, race and other factors. Christians and other minorities are granted greater political representation.

Freedom of belief is declared “absolute”, while freedom to practise religion and establish places of worship is granted to Christians (and Jews) as well as Muslims. The constitution requires Parliament to issue a law that would relax the longstanding restrictions on the building and renovation of churches so as to allow Christians to worship freely.

It is a remarkable turnaround after Islamists appeared to be consolidating their grip on power following the Arab Spring of 2011, and the country’s Christian minority were facing the grim prospect of life in an Islamic state. There was a surge of violent attacks against them, and an escalation in the number of Christian women being kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam and married against their will to a Muslim man. The number of blasphemy cases, in which some Christians were jailed for allegedly insulting Islam, also increased. The regime was failing to offer them adequate protection or bring their assailants to justice.

Egyptian Christians have suffered centuries of discrimination, and most of the wealthier Christians have left the country in the last few decades. Those Christians who remain largely live in extreme poverty. Converts from Islam are acutely vulnerable.

The Church in Egypt is one of the oldest in the world. Egypt’s former capital Alexandria was one of the great Christian centres until 640 AD, when the country was invaded by Muslim Arabs. Today there are an estimated eight to ten million Christians; around 90% of the population are Muslims.

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    • Pray that the government of Kazakhstan will end its legal demand for the registration of religious groups, including churches. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, has said that this freedom “does not require state approval”, and that “communities which fail to meet the threshold set by the law or prefer not to be registered live in legal insecurity”. All religious groups in Kazakhstan were required to re-register under a controversial new religion law of 2011 that made it impossible for smaller congregations to gain state approval, and a number of Protestant denominations saw all their churches liquidated (i.e. lose their legal and financial status). Pray that all Christians in Kazakhstan will be given the freedom to meet and practise their faith together. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed 20 hours ago

    • Denis Yenenko, a Christian father of three in Sergeyevka, Kazakhstan, was jailed for six days in April for refusing to pay a fine imposed on him for leading worship at an “illegal meeting”. Denis and his fellow-Christian Sergei Lantsov were each ordered to pay around a month’s average wages for “participation in the activity of an unregistered, halted or banned religious community or social organisation”. Another 33 Christians from the same denomination, which refuses in principle to ask state permission for their activities, were fined in the first ten weeks of this year for exercising their right to religious freedom. Pray for strength and perseverance for our brothers and sisters as they worship and witness for Christ under oppressive restrictions. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Fri, Jul 2014 00:00

    • Our God and Father, we praise You for calling to faith a 13-year-old boy in Tajikistan through the teaching of “Aigul”, a Barnabas- funded Christian worker, and that he has now led his Muslim mother to Christ too. We thank You for his witness to his mother: “He told me that all people are sinful and me too. He told me what I need to do so that God can forgive my sins.” We pray that You will establish them both in their new faith, and that the rest of their family will also put their trust in Jesus. We pray especially for her brother, an Islamic leader, that he will stop trying to prevent them from meeting with other Christians. We thank You for Aigul’s fruitful ministry and pray that You will continue to bless it. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Thu, Jul 2014 00:00

    • In some countries, Christian-run ministries are not safe from official opposition even when they provide a vital service to the community. A homeless shelter run by Aleksei Shchedrov, a young Christian man in Belarus, has been stripped of its legal status after what appears to be a campaign of harassment by the authorities. Aleksei was originally charged with leading an unregistered religious organisation, because there is a prayer room at the shelter. These charges were dropped, but during a series of inspections, fault was found with the shelter’s facilities, and the ministry was closed down on 7 February. Give thanks that Aleksei has continued to care for the shelter’s residents since it was officially closed, and pray that they will not end up back on the street. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Wed, Jul 2014 00:00

    • Pray for churches and Christian organisations in Russia that are facing harassment from the authorities, which appears to be intended to shut them down. In March, a church in St Petersburg lost its appeal against liquidation; the authorities had falsely accused it of running a programme of general education, which as a religious organisation it is not entitled to do. As a result, the church has lost its right to own or rent property. Various church-run drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres have also been threatened with prosecution or closure. Pray that the Russian authorities will recognise the positive contributions of the churches to educational, social and charitable work and will leave them alone to carry out their ministries in peace. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Tue, Jul 2014 00:00

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